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Linear Composition

Linear Composition
signed and dated ‘Condo 09’ (on the reverse)
oil on linen
52 x 42in. (132.1 x 106.7cm.)
Painted in 2009
Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009.
Brussels, Xavier Hufkens, George Condo, 2009 (illustrated in colour, p. 21).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Painted in 2009, Linear Composition is a vibrant and playful portrait by George Condo. Against a luminous green backdrop is a kaleidoscopic figure, her features fragmented into colourful cubist disarray. Planes of brilliant colour meet a smiling red mouth, off-kilter eyes—one cartoonish, one more realistically portrayed—and a green, grape-like nose, which seems to perch on the canvas in trompe-l’oeil splendour. Bold geometric lines converge at the centre of her face, splitting the picture into prismatic sections. Her neck and bust are depicted in simplified, polygonal shapes, which pick up the shadow and glow of the green background: her plunging burgundy dress furthers her uncanny resemblance to the noble profile portraits of the Italian Renaissance. Oscillating between graphic, painterly, abstract and figurative registers, the work relates to the hybrid ‘drawing paintings’ Condo began making in 2008. As he clashes disparate references from Botticelli to Picasso, de Kooning and da Vinci, Condo explores the fantasy and artifice inherent in figure-painting: a complex cacophony of signals compete, pushing the portrait into strange, beguiling new territory.

Throughout his career, Condo has been engaged in conversation with the history of painting, and Picasso has remained a key touchstone and influence. ‘I describe what I do’ he said in 2014, ‘as psychological cubism. Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states’ (G. Condo, quoted in S. Jeffries, ‘George Condo: “I was delirious. Nearly died”’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014). The woman in Linear Composition is typical of this multifaceted approach, her fractured face reflecting the experience of postmodern flux that informs Condo’s vision. In tune with its echoes of Renaissance portraiture, however, the painting is also held together by an Old Masterly sense of light. As if lit from the left, the background shades from a radiant chartreuse to areas of deeper green, dappled with lush brushstrokes and throwing the figure into spatial relief. That’s just the way that Rembrandt or Frans Hals or any of those portrait painters usually framed their portraits’, Condo explains. ‘It does something to classicise 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). This sense of ‘constellation’ is particularly palpable in the present work, whose schematic lines intersect and interact with the woman’s expression, as if attempting to map or fix its changeability in space.

Beyond its dialogue with Picasso, the figure in Linear Composition equally conjures Willem de Kooning’s explosive, grinning women, and the carnivalesque, comic-strip eyes and mouths of Philip Guston; her serene, planar backdrop, meanwhile, invokes the colour fields of Abstract Expressionists like Richard Diebenkorn. Another antecedent might be Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter who composed imaginary portrait heads entirely from objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books. Condo does similar work with abstract and figurative components to build his picture, creating an assembly of diverse elements that reflects his omnivorous approach to artistic idioms. ‘The figure’, he says, ‘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, Ostfildern-Ruit 2005, pp. 32-33).

Where Condo’s ‘drawing paintings’ combine pastel, oils and charcoal in a single surface, Linear Composition is painted entirely in oils. Its use of line nonetheless relates it closely to these works, whose analysis of pictorial structure stems from the artist’s career-long engagement with music. Condo has a particular fondness for improvisational jazz, wherein different musical ideas riff dynamically on underlying frameworks, stretching dissonance and harmony to their limits. ‘The idea of uniting drawing and painting on a single canvas’, writes Simon Baker, ‘arose from Condo’s recognition of the need for immediacy and improvisation with line and gesture but can also be understood as contingent upon the increasing importance of the contrapuntal balance of working at different speeds and rhythms on the same work’ (S. Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London 2015, p. 152). Linear Composition exhibits this keen eye for balance, counterpoint and syncopation, with its armature fitting together like sections of stained glass, and the woman’s features shifting in and out of tune. We witness the artist as virtuoso, conducting a vivid symphony of colour, form and feeling. ‘You are still a musician at heart’, said the theorist Félix Guattari to Condo. ‘With you the polyphony of lines, forms and colours belong to a temporal dimension rather than one of spatial coordination. Your paintings are like non-arpeggio chords which unleash their harmonies and their melodic potential’ (F. Guattari, ‘Introduction (Paris 1990)’, in George Condo: The Lost Civilization, exh. cat. Musée Maillol, Paris 2009, p. 18).

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