Overview

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George Condo (b. 1957)
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George Condo (b. 1957)

The Chef

Details
George Condo (b. 1957)
The Chef
signed and dated 'Condo 2019' (upper left)
oil on canvas
38 x 40 in. (96.5 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 2019.
Provenance
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired from 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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Lot Essay

"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).

A fantastic example of George Condo’s skillful fusion of humor, caricature and the grotesque, The Chef conflates fragments of traditional art historical icons with contemporary culture, wantonly co-mingling elements of the stunning and the shocking. The Chef, a startling, beguiling figure is a signature example of Condo’s unique approach to portraiture, which is informed by a complex dialogue with art history. Clashing disparate references from Rembrandt to Picasso, Warhol, pop culture and the visual language of cartoons, Condo’s works dismantle the fantasies and artifices inherent in figurative painting. A cacophony of signals compete, pushing the image into a strange, disconcerting realm that we’re not quite sure how to read.

Exuding a comic air, The Chef depicts a humble chef clad in traditional chef’s garb and hat, staring straight out at the viewer. The chef’s face is masterfully twisted and distorted with a definite Cubist sensibility that speaks to Condo’s interest in the figurative works of Pablo Picasso. The figure is set against a luxurious red ground that would feel at home in the portraits of Diego Velázquez or the psychologically dense images of Francis Bacon. As Condo states, “My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art,” Condo notes, “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, April 21, 2013).

The ‘chef’ joins a number of archetypes in his portraits, including bus-drivers and butlers, whose outlandish appearance seems to bear no relation to their stated occupation; Condo’s cast members highlight the inadequacy of fixed labels in an age of fractured styles and compound identities. ‘I describe what I do as psychological cubism,’ Condo has said. ‘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). In all his grotesquerie, the chef’s distorted, exaggerated features exhibit an appealing and convincing character: he is at once grumpy an endearing, and, set against the bright red background as all is laid bare, he even takes on a surprising sense of beauty.

Deeply immersed in memories of both European and American traditions of painting, Condo’s canvases articulate a potent and mixed emotional charge. As a portrait, The Chef  is both endearing and monstrous, depicting a complex character meant to amuse. Clashing disparate references from art history, American pop culture and the visual idiom of cartoons, Condo works to dismantle the fantasies and artifices inherent in figuration. More than pastiche, The Chef fuses the sartorial gestures of Franz Hals, Pablo Picasso’s bifurcation of form, and even the format of Warhol’s late portraits, filtered through Condo’s own witty, masterful style. A fantastic example of George Condo’s skillful fusion of humor, caricature and the grotesque, The Chef conflates fragments of traditional art historical icons with contemporary culture, wantonly co-mingling elements of the stunning and the shocking, provoking a kind of mental whiplash. Condo’s unique style of figurative portraiture allows him to convey the plurality of dispositions and serves as a visual cross-section of mental states, both the comedic, the endearing and the sorrowful.

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