George Condo (b. 1957)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
George Condo (b. 1957)


George Condo (b. 1957)
signed and dated 'Condo 2011' (upper left)
acrylic, charcoal and pastel on linen
68 x 66 in. (172.7 x 167.6 cm.)
Painted in 2011.
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Private collection, 2011
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 16 May 2018, lot 25
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Special notice
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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

A key figure in the history of the New York art scene, George Condo’s oeuvre exhibits a complex, psychological air that upends traditional portraiture while drawing inspiration from the history of figurative painting. Day of the Idol is a striking example of the artist’s existential portraits that serve as visual cross-sections of mental states. Part of his aptly-named Drawing Paintings series, the work is marked by a tight grouping of staring faces and grasping extremities that meld with the contour lines of their ghostly bodies. 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’s characters beg for further investigation while still keeping the viewer at arm’s length.
Rendered atop a light blue ground, a cast of characters peers out from an amalgamation of lines and shapes. Passages of blue, peach, pink, and green come together in clusters of brushy color; a central, horizontal band presents a group of faces that materialize from their sketchy surroundings. Singular eyes stare out at the viewer as their gaze is met by furrowed brows, gnashing teeth, bare breasts, and snarled grimaces. In the present lot, an ethereal field of pastel brushstrokes backgrounds the picture, lending it a dreamlike tone and removing it from any plainly observable reality. The foreground’s porousness permits that background to slip through sections of the dense organization of figures. Their simultaneous opacity and immateriality underscores one of Condo’s basic premises, that all things are equal and organized non-hierarchically in his cubist pictures. Faces and bodies of other individuals coalesce around the central shapely nude figure, whose serene and beautiful face strongly contrasts against the garish, monstrous faces that surround her, recalling the central figure in Édouard Manet’s famed composition A Bar at the Folies-Bergère from 1882.
By representing differing emotions through the depiction of the figures’ faces, Condo embodies his interest in depicting the complexity of one’s mentality and the conflicting emotions one may possess. Describing the destabilizing and often challenging nature of his paintings, Condo introduces a new term: “It’s what I call artificial realism. That’s what I do. I try to depict a character’s train of thoughts simultaneously—hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation. If you could see these things at once that would be like what I’m trying to make you see in my art” (G. Condo, quoted in S. Jeffries “George Condo: ‘I Was Delirious. Nearly Died’,” The Guardian, 10 February 2014). Indeed, the composition corroborates that premise, with the viewer’s eye being led through a series of emotions, energies and the frenetic mind. This artificial realism, for Condo, neatly dovetails with his self-described psychological Cubism wherein he paints subjects in several states of mind at once, adapting the multi-point fractured perspectives of the movement. Nevertheless, Day of the Idol is deeply captivating and visually alluring, with the central nude figures’ seductive stance, varied coloration and juxtaposing facial stylization. The psychological and stylistic complexities both repel and beguile the viewer, enticing endless examination and speculation.
The crowd of faces and body parts that hold the viewer’s focus in Day of the Idol coalesce from a variety of styles and influences. Undeniably, the present work, is a superb example of the artist’s career-long investigation into Cubism and Futurism and its formal possibilities in the contemporary moment. Condo’s postmodern approach to form, color, composition, and art history have placed him at painting’s vanguard since his emergence over four decades ago. This painting finds the artist continuing to probe the act of painting itself, laying bare his thought process in layers of overlapping planes. Like most of Condo’s paintings, individual elements collapse and dissolve, only to come together as a solid, impenetrable whole. The present work, with its pastel background and sophisticated use of flat color passages, displays many of Condo’s most celebrated motifs, like his penchant for abstracting the body and equalizing elements. An instantly recognizable example of Condo’s neo-Cubist style, Day of the Idol finds Condo examining Modernism’s greatest achievement while innovating within his unique, iconic personal style.
Condo’s connection to the rich and varied history of Western art does not stop, or start, however, at Cubism. Here, Condo’s art historical repertoire is at its most vast: one recalls elements of Diego Velazquez’s portraits, Edouard Manet’s bar scenes, James Ensor’s carnivalesque arrangements of figures, the rampant geometric buoyancy of the Italian Futurists, and the brashness of Willem de Kooning’s abstracted figuration, among others. Furthermore, enthralled with Classical imagery and neoclassical interpretations of the body, Condo’s central female nudes appear almost relief-like in its rendering. Even the background, too, recalls an Impressionist sky, moving effortlessly between blues, greys, and purples. “My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art where one second you might feel the background has the shading and tonalities you would see in a Rembrandt portrait, but the subject is completely different and painted like some low-culture, transgressive mutation of a comic strip” (G. Condo, quoted in J. Belcove, “George Condo interview”, in Financial Times, 21 April 2013). Indeed, Condo’s simultaneous reliance on and refutation of the past is a key to understanding his layered and often irreverent paintings.

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