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Property from an Important Private Collection

The Diver

The Diver
signed, titled and dated 'Condo Aug. 01 The Diver' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 2001.
Stellan Holm Gallery, New York
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
Gramercy Park Hotel Collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2012
Los Angeles, Prism Gallery, George Condo: Mental States, April 2012.

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of the 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

‘[Condo’s] 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 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’
– Ralph Rugoff

George Condo’s The Diver greets the viewer with a gloriously amusing figure set against a somber backdrop of ash greys and charcoal black. Staring out from the canvas are two bulging grey eyes, a bulbous nose, and puffy gleaming jowls. An exaggerated ear extends from the comically small head, one that bears no distinction when encountering a thick, elongated neck. Condo’s generous swathes of paint and broad brushstrokes add masterly texture to both the figure’s skin and the plain backdrop behind him. Questions abound in regard to the figure’s identity. The title hints at an occupation as a diver, inserting visualizations of this strange figure swan-diving into a pool. Condo’s trademark balance of lighthearted visual humor and references to classical art history make for a delightful work, encouraging both smiles and reflection in its reception.
While influences from Picasso to Disney might be glimpsed in The Diver, the work also displays an Old Masterly sense of light. As if lit from the composition’s right-hand side, the background shades from black to smudged grey, throwing the figure into shadowed relief. ‘When a painting has neutral space around it,’ Condo explains, ‘there’s a tone where from the light side – let’s say we’re dealing with a portrait – from the light side of the face to the shaded darker part of the face, you’ll notice that the background corresponds in an opposite way … That’s just the way that Rembrandt or Frans Hals or any of those portrait painters usually framed their portraits. It does something to classicize the constellation of human psychology that might be represented in one of those portraits’ (G. Condo, quoted in C. Moore, ‘Mondo Condo: Exploring the Extreme Vision of George Condo’s Work’, Ran Dian, 20 March 2018).
If Rembrandt and Hals play their part, the present work also has a touch of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter who composed imaginary profile portrait heads entirely from objects such as fruit, flowers, fish, and books. Condo here does similar building work with eyes, teeth, and the shapes of body parts, creating a sense of distinct components seen from multiple, simultaneous angles. He assembles The Diver through a compound gaze, looking at art history in the way the Cubists regarded the physical world. ‘The point’, Condo explains, ‘is not to see how well somebody paints a figure, but something beyond that. A way of saying that the figure itself becomes a map of a number of intellectual processes involved in the idea of making an art work. The figure is somehow the content and the non-content, the absolute collision of styles and the interruption of one direction by another, almost like channels being changed on the television set before you ever see what is on’ (G. Condo, quoted in T. Kellein, ‘Interview with George Condo, New York, 15 April 2004’ in George Condo: One Hundred Women, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2005, pp. 32-33).

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