George Condo (b. 1957)
George Condo (b. 1957)
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Property from an Important Private Collection
George Condo (b. 1957)

Tumbling Forms

George Condo (b. 1957)
Tumbling Forms
oil and pigment stick on linen
78 x 74 in. (198.1 x 188 cm.)
Executed in 2015.
Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
C. Knight, “George Condo’s tone of despair, Los Angeles Times, 6 May 2016, p. E3 (installation view illustrated).
Museum of Contemporary Art Lyon, La Vie Moderne (The Modern Life), 13 Biennale de Lyon, September 2015-January 2016.
Los Angeles, Sprüth Magers, George Condo: Entrance to the Void, April-June 2016.

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Lot Essay

Coming to prominence in the avant-garde East Village scene of 1980s New York City, George Condo’s singular approach to painting mines the history of the medium to deliver dynamic psychological dramas in oil. Tumbling Forms is a potent example of the artist’s conflation of multiple stylistic tendencies in his exploration of the very limits of representational painting. Working tangentially to his contemporaries, Condo often casts aside the more traditional figurative tendencies in favor of deeply emotional works that investigate changing mental states and their effects on human vision. “What's possible with painting,” he notes, “that's not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time, and you can capture what I call a psychological cubism” (G. Condo, quoted in J. Belcove, “George Condo interview”, Financial Times, April 21, 2013). Examining multiple shifting moods within one canvas, the painter sets up a touchstone for his audience to explore and reflect upon. The characters dissolve into pure psychic energy as we project our own experiences on them and wait for a voice to call back.

Vibrating with a dynamic sense of energy, Tumbling Forms cascades off of the canvas and into our own space with a deafening crash. Beginning in the upper left, one can trace the path of the swirling, brushy cavalcade as it powers toward the edge of the picture plane through a cloud of pastel colors that resembles a spring landscape through fogged glass. Scumbles of black, white, and gray merge with sickly green and rosy pink as the chunky brushstrokes and palette knife impasto gives way to discrete linework showing figurative bits like eyes, teeth, and the occasional nose.

“Realistic details … struggle to emerge from the rich atmosphere of line and Cézannesque passage that comprise the backgrounds,” suggests curator Laura Hoptman. “It is as if this painterly primordial soup is tugging these figurative forms back into itself, impeding their complete transformation from shapes into images” (L. Hoptman, “Abstraction as a State of Mind” in George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat. New Museum, New York, 2011, p.23). Indeed the bottom of Tumbling Forms is inundated with a mass of black paint that threatens to overtake any semblance of recognizable shapes. Like a tarpit swallowing a crowd of frenzied faces, the entire composition is in danger of slipping into the abyss. This visual tension is key to Condo’s compositions as it immediately enthralls the viewer and urges them to share in the frenetic dance.

Eschewing the chronological progression of artistic movements, Condo instead marries abstraction with psychological figuration and a near-Cubist approach to space to create his own heady amalgam. The artist admits to this, noting: “When we actually thought for years that time should have a chronological order, we were only destroying ourselves” (G. Condo, Unpublished Text, 1976, in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, New York, 2015, p. 8). Hints of Impressionist coloring and hazy brushwork set the stage for objects almost Guston-like in their fevered rendering while the emotive color fields of the mid-twentieth century simmer in the fore. All of this comes together to create a visual vocabulary that is distinctly Condo.

The Cubist compositions of Pablo Picasso factor heavily into a discussion of Condo’s work, but instead of exploring pictorial space like his predecessor, the painter works with the connection between emotional states and their depiction on canvas. “What interests him are how paintings function, how illusions are created, and how stories are told. Yet however important [his] reference to tradition is, it does not determine the primary appearance of his works. [...] Condo paints pictures that exhaust the whole spectrum of an illusionist, figurative and narrative idiom, and at the same time address the issue of the painting as an artificial construct, above and beyond reality" (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). Though he often refers to historical painters from Manet to Fragonard to Velázquez, it is not to appropriate style or substance but to establish a kind of repartee with the past. Trading barbs with his forefathers, Condo brings the past to bear as he works and reworks his techniques in an effort to push the medium to its breaking point.

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