“There are characters that live within your mind and I want to bring them to light. If you think about how the mind as opposed to the eyes see people, that is the image I want to create.” – George Condo
Caricatured, flawed, comedic; these are some of the first adjectives that pop into one’s mind upon seeing some of George Condo’s large-scale portraits. In Condo’s first-ever, large solo exhibition in one of Greece’s leading museums, a selection of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures invite us to consider the human figure through visual translations of what the artist describes as “an imaginary character’s reality.”
The exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art features a total of 30 works, some of which come from a series of recent paintings and drawings, including Self-portrait in Paris 1-3 (2017) and Me, Myself and Him (2017), continuously referencing the influences, ideas and skills the artist has gathered over his 30+ years of artistic practice. Some are smiling in a dazed and confused state, while others are deranged, deflated and depressed; these sometimes colourful and at other times colourless paintings make up the fabric of Condo’s frenzied world. These works are wild and weird; familiar yet distancing; absurd and still ordinary. The characteristic Condo-esque motifs that appear throughout the presented works, such as parody and exaggeration, add comedic value to his paintings whilst simultaneously encapsulating the varying mental states one may experience in a lifetime.
The Condo signature self-portrait is goggle-eyed, grinning, maniacal, almost screaming through the painting, rendering a frantic assembly of distortion and the grotesque. In many of Condo’s paintings, one may notice the several layers, lines and shapes that are applied before the work is finally displayed; a production process that has allowed for this spontaneity and flexibility in gesture and in form. In turn, this multi-layered experience brings the viewer in touch with the artist’s psychological exploration of the human condition as well as his drive to record the complexity of our mental states as we endure the daily absurdities of life. These motifs are particularly traceable in the paintings Homeless Harlequins (2004), Grinning Harlequin (2005) and Laughing Priest (2004) where we see a cast of cartoon-like characters.
Understanding Condo’s work comes with understanding the dualism of abstraction vs. figuration, a key theme that came to define the practice of artists he worked alongside in America in the 1980s. Key figures in this creative shift include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons, who strove to revive figuration by working backwards into realism in a post Abstract-Expressionist landscape. Inventing new creations by referencing the figurative and the beautiful through deconstructing the mundane and the absurd, Condo was able to prove that art could be both representational and abstract.
Among these portraits, the exhibition also includes the sculptures, Totemic Personage (2012) and Nude on Wine Crates 2 (2016) which feature fragmentation and reconfiguration, whereas Internal Space (2005) becomes both abstract and relational. George Condo’s obsession with the human figure and its several manifestations, or “many selves” as he describes it, has materialised into this new form of portraiture, one that resembles Cubist and Surrealist gestures but ultimately culminating into a unique style of Artificial Realism.
Despite George Condo at Cycladic closing soon, if you ever find yourself in Athens, a visit to the Museum of Cycladic Art is a must. With the museum’s anthropocentric focus on ancient Cycladic society, the MCA’s contemporary art programme aims to stage exhibitions that take inspiration from or respond to the human figure. With an ever-increasing visible and innovative contemporary arts scene, cultural institutions like the MCA are attempting to put Athens on Europe’s cultural map.
Words by Dominic Lauren
George Condo at Cycladic Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece, until 14 October 2018