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George Condo (b. 1957)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more
George Condo (b. 1957)

Figures in Motion

Details
George Condo (b. 1957)
Figures in Motion
signed and dated 'Condo 2013' (upper left)
acrylic, charcoal and pastel on linen, in artist's frame
overall: 59 ¼ x 63 in. (151.1 x 160cm.)
Painted in 2013
Provenance
Skarstedt Gallery, New York.
Private Collection.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

‘I describe what I do as psychological cubism. Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states’
–George Condo

‘You are still a musician at heart. 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’
–Félix Guattari to George Condo


Instantly recognisable as the work of George Condo, Figures in Motion is a banquet of colour, form and melodic arrangement. Within its pale wooden frame – the artist’s own, and an integral part of the work – Condo has drawn and painted a dizzying assemblage of characters, which collide and fragment in a densely-packed ensemble. Executed in acrylic on linen, with well-defined charcoal lines and soft pastel elements, the work presents a cornucopia of rich texture and eyecatching colour, dominated by vivid yellows and opalescent passages of blue, lavender and peach. Snatches of recognisable human features – the eyes and teeth of a face, the smooth torso and poised limbs of a nude dancer, delicate hands, buttocks – are both spotlighted and subsumed in a captivating chaos. To the centre-left, a particularly vibrant cluster explodes into polychromatic shards, while bulbous white shapes around the top and right edges could be either parts of a living being, oblique objects or non-representational forms. Figures in Motion is one of a series of what Condo calls ‘expanded canvases,’ where the mise en scène of the work relates directly to composition. The Figures of the title, after all, could mean either pictorial figures or those in sheet music; they might even be dancers. As a painter, Condo adopts a similar approach to a classical composer, with periods of extreme activity counterpoised with more quiet, open sections. With its density of ideas, overlapping themes and vibrant contrasts, Figures in Motion can be justly considered a symphonic painting.

Taken as a whole, the composition feels almost like a puzzle: the moment one picks out a form, it slips back into the excitement of the whole. It is as if scores of drawings have been overlaid together on the same page. This work was painted during 2013, in which Condo contracted and recovered from life-threatening Legionnaire’s disease. The exuberance of its forms and vitality of its colours, presided over by balmy shades of yellow, gain an almost celebratory aspect in light of the artist’s brush with mortality. Figures in Motion’s joyful palette, as well as its fragmented structure, echo Picasso’s work of the 1930s, in which he finessed Cubism to luscious, prismatic heights. Condo’s rounded shapes, detached limbs and heads in profile find clear parallels in Picasso’s The Sculptor (1931), while the violent clashing of these forms evokes Guernica (1937). These echoes are no accident: throughout his career, Condo has been immersed in an intelligent conversation with the history of painting, and Picasso remained a key touchstone and influence. ‘I describe what I do,’ said Condo 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). Figures in Motion, with its disjointed faces and bodies held together in a fabric of orchestral complexity and poise, stands among the greatest triumphs of his multifaceted approach.

‘Condo’s facility as a painter,’ asserts Ralph Rugoff, ‘continually lures our attention away from the image to take in the choreography of marks across the picture plane: the loose grace of the brushstrokes, their varied touch and texture, the interplay of unexpected colour relationship’ (R. Rugoff, George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat. Hayward Gallery, London, 2011, p. 11). Standing on this boundary between the figurative and the abstract, Figures in Motion takes on a hybrid state that has a been central to Condo’s oeuvre since the major works Diaries of Milan (1984) and Dancing to Miles (1985), both in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Its dynamism recalls the gestural abstraction of Jackson Pollock, while its bodies share a sense of grotesque with Willem de Kooning’s seminal Woman series. But Condo’s abstraction also draws upon his potent relationship with music. At the University of Massachusetts, he studied Music Theory along with Art History. ‘You are still’ said the theorist Félix Guattari to Condo, ‘a musician at heart. 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 Civilisation, exh. cat., Musée Malliol/Gallimard, Paris, 2009, p. 18).

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