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Staring into Space

Staring into Space
signed and dated ‘Condo 2014-5’ (upper right)
acrylic, charcoal, pastel on linen
133.3 x 110.5 cm. (52 1⁄2 x 43 1⁄2 in.)
Painted in the 2014-2015
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Private Collection (Acquired from the above by the previous owner)
Acquired at the above by the present owner
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Head of Evening Sale

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Lot Essay

George Condo’s bold and colourful painting exemplifies the artist’s unique approach to contemporary portraiture. Drawing inspiration from the Old Masters and infusing it with the aesthetics of Pop Art, Condo produces distinctly characteristic works that both speak to, and rejuvenate, this noble and historic genre. Coining the term “artificial realism,” the artist’s most accomplished work are complex riffs on centuries of tradition that incorporates elements and themes often associated with more classical styles of painting. Strikingly contemporary, the artist nonetheless peppers his works with multiple references from art history, and often pays homage to those who have influenced him such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In Staring into Space, Condo assembles geometric planes of colour into the idiosyncratic face of a woman’s portrait . Referencing the Cubist legacy of Picasso, out of this collection of frontal planer forms, features appear: eyes wide open, a protruding ear, high cheekbones, an elongated neck, and finally a toothy grin all emerge out of the interlocking jigsaw of shapes. Set against a backdrop of bubblegum pink, the flowing lines of Condo’s figure—he has called works such as this a “drawing painting”—evoke the spirit of Arshile Gorky’s color-blocked washes in his landscapes of the 1940s or Willem de Kooning’s early abstractions, wherein bits of flesh peek through a flurry of furious marks.

Drawing on historical art traditions and techniques, Condo has worked to develop a contemporary edge to Cubist visual motifs. The artist deploys a particular devotion to the act of painYetting, pulling practices from diverse sources like Picasso, Velázquez, Matisse, and Twombly, as well as studying the techniques of Old Masters. Condo’s work is engaging because it presents scenes which we feel are familiar, yet painted in a way that is startlingly contemporary. Calvin Tompkins remarks that Condo “used the language of his predecessors, their methods and techniques, and applied them to subjects they would never have painted” (C. Tompkins, “Portraits of Imaginary People”, New Yorker, 2011).

Yet, Condo maintains that his paintings are as much about the mindset of the characters he creates, as it is about their physical appearance. “I describe what I do as psychological cubism,” he has said. “Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. Four of them can occur simultaneously. Like glimpsing a bus with one passenger howling over a joke they’re hearing down the phone, someone else asleep, someone else crying – I’ll put them all in one face” (G. Condo, quoted in S. Jeffries, “George Condo: ‘I was delirious. Nearly Died’”, in The Guardian, February 10, 2014).

By combining an expansive knowledge of art history with an understanding of contemporary psychological states, Condo has found his own unique form of contemporary portraiture. “[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 painting becomes 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.

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