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George Condo (b. 1957)
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George Condo (b. 1957)

Untitled

Details
George Condo (b. 1957)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Condo Aug. 2016' (upper left)
acrylic, charcoal, metallic paint and pigment stick on linen, in artist's frame
59 x 66 1/8in. (150 x 168cm.)
Executed in 2016
Provenance
Skarstedt Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2016.
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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘I was in five different places in my mind at the same time’
–George Condo


A vivid explosion of line and colour, George Condo’s Untitled is a maelstrom of abstract and figurative forms. Human eyes, noses and hands writhe within a mass of bright geometric shapes, rendered with raw brushstrokes, impulsive streaks of charcoal and flashes of metallic paint. Painted in 2016, the work stems from a period of emotional turmoil for the artist, which saw him undergo major surgery after being diagnosed with cancer the previous year. The paintings produced following this trauma, he explains, represent something of an exorcism: ‘it’s the obliteration of the characters that keep haunting me. I’m getting them out of my system.’ In Untitled, the artist’s vibrant art-historical imagination is brought to a clamouring crescendo, fusing echoes of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Willem de Kooning and his former contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat. Its rich multi-media composition extends the aesthetic of the ‘Drawing Paintings’ begun in 2008, combining intuitive draughtsmanship with a virtuosic command of pigment. The work’s fractured facial features, meanwhile, speak to his long-standing fascination with what he terms ‘psychological Cubism’: a desire to capture multiple mental states on canvas. In the period following his operation, this approach assumed a new degree of personal significance for Condo. ‘I was starting to feel very scrambled up’, he writes; ‘… I was in five different places in my mind at the same time’ (G. Condo, quoted at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/ apr/20/george-condo-kanye-west-my-beautiful-dark-twisted-fantasy-cancer-art [accessed 8 January 2019]). With its surface shattered like a pane of glass, the present work speaks directly to this confession.

Coming to prominence in 1980s New York before moving to Paris, Condo honed his craft between America and Europe. Rooted in a deep knowledge of art history, his paintings navigate centuries of influence, plundering visual languages ranging from antiquities and the Old Masters to graffiti and contemporary cartoons. ‘People might say that one of my paintings looks like Guston meets Monet in a Picasso format in Cézanne’s world, but ultimately I consider it to be just about the knowledge of painting’, he explains. ‘You want to reach a point where your work is the sum total of everything that ever happened before you’ (G. Condo, quoted in George Condo: Artificial Realism, exh. cat., Gary Tatintsian Gallery, Moscow, 2008, p. 72). At once beautiful and disarming, his works are concerned less with artistic appropriation than with the simultaneity of human experience. His embrace of ‘psychological Cubism’ represents the most direct response to this theme, using fragmented art historical references in a bid to capture the conflicting, contradictory nature of the human psyche. Much of Condo’s earlier practice paraded this approach through grotesque, humorous portraits, depicting characters caught between mental states. His later work, however, takes on a more cerebral quality, playing with the relationship between figuration and abstraction. Condo’s love of music – an important influence upon his practice – is felt most keenly in works such as the present, where linear improvisation combines with a near-symphonic command of colour and form. The artist’s experience of illness – both with Legionnaire’s disease in 2013, followed by his surgery in 2015 – brought these tendencies to breaking point. In the present work, cacophony reigns supreme: the figure is reduced to a series of phantom ciphers, drowning in a delirious swamp of style and technique.

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