George Condo (b. 1957)
signed, titled and dated 'Condo 09 Hemazoids' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
85 x 75 in. (215.9 x 190.5 cm.)
Painted in 2009.
Luhring Augustine, New York
Gary Tatintsian Gallery, Moscow
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

A singular figure in the history of the New York art scene, George Condo’s oeuvre exhibits a tense, psychological air that upends the traditional portrait while drawing inspiration from the history of figurative painting. Hemazoids is a striking example of the artist’s existential portraits that serve as visual cross-sections of mental states. Ralph Rugoff has noted about these works, “these figures can be seductive and repulsive at the same time. They embody a position that is simultaneously frightening and appealing. This is something that also comes across in the way that they solicit different kinds of looks from the viewer, and how they often look back at us with eyes that don’t match or don’t even seem to belong to the same face” (R. Rugoff, “The Enigma of Jean Louis: Interview 14 March 2006”, in George Condo: Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, exh. cat., Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, pp. 8-9). By formally referencing the legacy of Cubism and other art historical movements while also crafting a distinctive style all his own, Condo creates characters that beg for further investigation while still keeping the viewer at arm’s length.
Set against a rich golden background, the two figures in Hemazoids stare out confrontationally, as though daring the viewer to come closer. Contrast abounds throughout the two figures, which combine centuries-old double portraiture conventions with flattened space, vibrant colors and distorted faces. Thick black outlines forcefully define the sitters’ clothing, the bright green chair and the woman’s hands, which appear nearly cartoon-like in their expressive simplicity. The woman’s mouth hangs wide open and her spherical cheeks, which have teeth at the bottom, indicate that she is screaming, and yet her passive eyes and raised eyebrows give a contradictory air of calmness. Equally, if not more visually surprising is the man to her right, whose bared teeth and drastically uneven eyes are punctuated by a spherical green clown nose and comically large tie. The strangeness of the sitters and their distorted features provokes speculation into their relationship. Although placed close to one another, the figures are separated by the flattened outline of the chair, and the man’s hand, which clutches the back of the chair, seems disembodied and impossibly far away. The psychological and stylistic complexities both repel and beguile the viewer, enticing endless examination and speculation.
Known for his innovative approach to figurative painting, Condo has influenced a generation of painters working today. Along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, both of whom were his close friends in the New York art scene of the 1980s, the artist helped to promote a resurgence of painting that would have lasting effects in art history. By combining an expansive knowledge of historical visual forms and styles with an understanding of contemporary psychological states and an interest in representing them, Condo has eschewed the more referential modes of contemporaries like Julian Schnabel. “[He] makes frequent reference to the works of Velázquez and Manet, but also to Greuze and Fragonard, Delacroix and Goya, and repeatedly to Picasso. What interests him are how paintings function, how illusions are created, and how stories are told. Yet however important this reference to tradition is, it does not determine the primary appearance of his works” (M. Brehm, "Tradition as Temptation. An Approach to the 'George Condo Method'", in T. Kellein, George Condo: One Hundred Women, exh. cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, 2005, pp. 19-20). Each image is an effort to construct and display a subject that is both inviting and feels at odds with academic painting. The viewer recognizes the visual tropes but is hard-pressed to make a direct link; Condo has so successfully embedded his influences and references that they become his own fluid visual language.
Condo’s career has been marked with several commissions and collaborations, including with the poet Allen Ginsberg, and writer William S. Burroughs, with whom he created a series of paintings in the mid-1990s. One of his most recent high profile crossovers, and one that brought his name to more international attention, came when musician Kanye West asked Condo to produce a series of paintings for his critically-acclaimed album My Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. Censored by iTunes for its more provocative nature, the final image was included in a variety of special releases along with reproductions of other works from the series. The following year, a major retrospective at the New Museum in New York pushed Condo’s work further into the spotlight and cemented his decades-long career as a major figure of the New York art world and beyond.

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