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  • Mardee Goff

GEORGE CONDO: two or three sides of a personality at the same time...


What’s possible with painting that’s not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time.[i]


GEORGE CONDO (b. 1957, Concord, New Hampshire) presents a fragmented and fissured world, populated by strange anthropomorphic figures and unexpected associations that palpitate with psychological intensity. Transmuted references to art history, painting, drawing, pop culture, music, and philosophical musings form an artistic language and style that is distinctly his own. Stripped of conventional motif, his style of imitation is a retooling of past artistic styles, which are internalized and reconfigured into his own idiosyncratic context. Through classically executed paintings, Condo revitalizes the tradition of painting for a contemporary audience. One genre above all continues to yield an on-going investigation for the artist and a majority of his production: portraiture. Beyond a few exceptions, Condo’s portraits do not depict real people but instead are artistic inventions conjured through his imaginative gestures.


Abstract Face (2) embraces the improvisational gesture of drawing. Confident lines and playful colors form a hysterical and lyrical figure, brightly punctuated against a white background. Teeth haphazardly dance across the face like keys of a piano. Treating paper with the same respect that canvas demands, Condo seamlessly fuses the surface of drawing with that of painting. In a sketch-like quality he maintains control using pastel to define the essence of a person in a few deft strokes.


While drawing has always occupied an important space in Condo’s practice, his ability to effortless incorporate drawing into his painting process is something he developed over time. First asserted in his Drawing Paintings, begun in 2009 and continued ever since, his ability to freely flow between the two modes of production marks a turning point in the artist’s career. In order to fully understand the importance of this shift, we must consider it within the history of art, which has always had the tendency to give hierarchical preference to painting over drawing—drawing often considered the support mechanism and necessary process for realizing the higher and more preferred medium of painting. Despite the fact artists and historians for centuries have rejected the classification and privileging of painting as something other than and better than drawing, this notion is so deeply ingrained in the value placed on work that it is something each artist must reconcile for themselves. Condo has not only reconciled drawing and painting as equal, he has found a way to authentically render that in his work. An authenticity exemplified in Abstract (2). In liberating drawing, Condo liberated himself, opening up a more fluid form of expression that allowed him to more freely trace the tenants of the human mind. Through the improvisation of form and consciousness, Condo creates jarring compositions that give weight to the turbulence of life and our frenzied existence.


Abstract (2) carnivalesque portrayal of an imagined person creates a playful and menacing interaction with the viewer. Through grotesque characterizations, Condo is able to exploit the best and worst of human nature. The exaggerated tendencies of his subjects provide comic relief, while the perversions of the figure and monstrous-distortion lead to darker impulses. As we stare into a shattered mirror of line and color, the strange creature reflects back a volatile mixture of fear, desire, freedom, vulgarity and humor. What we see has the ability to tell us more about ourselves than we might realize. Seen abstractly his portraits are existential reliefs. Through a figurative lens they become caricatures of human existence.


George Condo attended the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, where he studied Music Theory and Art History. In the 1970s he moved to New York where he started off as a studio assistant in Andy Warhol’s factory and befriended artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Between 1985 and 1995, Condo lived and worked in Paris and New York, where he met writer William S. Burroughs (with whom he collaborated) and philosopher Felix Guattari, who has written extensively on his work. In 2010, he painted several cover illustrations for Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Museo Jumex, Mexico City; Moderna Museet, Stockholm among many others. Condo has had several retrospectives including the 2011 exhibition Mental States presented at the New Museum in New York and traveled to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Hayward Gallery, London; and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. In 2017 a major retrospective of works on paper was presented at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. and traveled to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark. In 2019, Condo was selected to participate in the 58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia: May You Live in Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff.

[i] George Condo, quoted in Julie Belcove, “George Condo Interview”, Financial Times (April 21, 2013), online. 


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