(noun) nonchalant absurdity with a dash of embarrassment.

(verb) to be shark bitten.

(adverb) in a manner that is nonchalantly absurd and embarrassing.

25 January 2011


FROM NEW MUSEUM WEBSITE: George Condo has been a singular voice in American and European art for almost three decades. Born in 1957 in New Hampshire, he studied art history and music theory at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. In 1980 he arrived in New York, where he quickly became part of the burgeoning East Village art scene. Exhibiting at the Pat Hearn Gallery along with painters such as Mary Heilmann and Philip Taaffe, and becoming close friends with artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Condo developed a unique painting style, employing the virtuoso draftsmanship and paint handling of the old masters to depict subject matter that sprang largely from his imagination.

In the context of early 1980s New York, Condo’s paintings—which he called “fake old masters”—displayed a provocative untimeliness. While many artists at the time borrowed specific imagery from historical sources, Condo instead adopted the styles, techniques, and methods of earlier painters and applied them to subjects distinctly his own. Over the next two decades, he went on to explore an astonishing variety of aesthetic territories, from Mannerist ornamentalism to Picasso-esque Cubism, drawing from Diego Velázquez to Looney Tunes. Possessed of an enormous memory bank of art historical references, Condo synthesized these past pictorial languages and motifs to create, as he put it, “composites of various psychological states painted in different ways.”

Condo is exceptionally prolific and has produced an enormous body of work since the beginning of the 1980s. The bulk of it has been portraiture, not of living individuals but of invented characters. Many early portraits, while often fantastical, evoke complex and precarious mental states. Over the past decade, Condo has introduced a range of distinctly contemporary types: figures that despite their apparently commonplace social roles seem to belong to the furthest extremes of the human psyche. In paintings like these, which in his words, “reflect the madness of everyday life,” meticulous attention to naturalistic detail is coupled with elements of the grotesque and the absurd.

“George Condo: Mental States” presents what the artist has called a “conceptual survey” of work over the past thirty years. Divided into four sections, each of which examines a particular theme or genre central to his work, the exhibition reveals his tragicomic vision. It demonstrates that no matter how varied his artistic language or strategy, Condo’s paintings and sculptures create a singular view—dystopic, humorous, empathetic, and critical—of our post-humanist age.

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