In 2010, famous American rapper Kanye West released his new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with an album cover so grotesque and disturbing that it was subsequently banned by iTunes. This depicted a morbid, frightful and aggressive caricature of the artist with a female phoenix across his lap, which is now blurred as the cover. The artwork was commissioned by West for the New York-based George Condo, perhaps one of the most influential painters of the last few decades. Known for his carnivalesque, shocking and distorted take on classical portraiture in his iconic style that he calls ‘Artificial Realism’, he mixes references from pop culture, Disney graffiti, Surrealism to famous historical painters such as Velazquez, Picasso and Francis Bacon into an aesthetic that is distinctly Condo’s own.
Born in 1957 in New Hampshire, Condo attended the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, studying music theory and art history. Moving to Boston, his career started with music- he joined the punk band called The Girls through which he met famous Abstract Painter Mark Dagley and the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who eventually inspired the young Condo to move to New York and pursue an artistic path. Here, he was instantly engulfed in the crazy, vibrant New York scene – he worked for Andy Warhol’s factory on the artist’s Myths series, and started showing his work for the first time in East Village galleries in the early 1980s. It was also during these years that he coined Artificial Realism, a genre to describe his hybrid practice merging Old Master’s portraiture with American Pop elements. In Condo’s own words:
“it’s the realistic representation of that which is artificial. And in order to get to that realistic representation, you need a kind of traditional background in painting. And that’s what’s genius about Picasso. We all know he mastered painting as a teenager, and that from there on it was a mission of deconstruction.”
In 1983, Condo moved to LA for a short period where he had his first solo exhibition with Ulrike Kantor Gallery, followed by a longer and highly successful period he spent in Europe. First in Germany, he had his first solo presentation in Europe in 1984 with Monika Sprueth Gallery, featuring his perhaps most well-known piece, The Cloudmaker. During his travels in Europe, Condo started working with art dealer and gallerist Barbara Gladstone, which resulted in two exhibitions in New York in 1984 with Gladstone Gallery and Pat Hearn Gallery. He also met and became life-long friends with Keith Haring, continuing their friendship back in New York until Haring’s death of AIDS in 1990. His prominent work, Dancing to Miles (1985), later included in the Whitney Biennial in 1987 and now in the collection of the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, was produced by Condo in Haring’s New York studio.
Condo’s significant body of work was a collaboration between him and William S. Burroughs, including painting and sculpture between 1988 and 1996, culminating in an exhibition at Pat Hearn Gallery in New York. Their additional written collaboration, Ghost of Chance, was published by the Whitney Museum in 1991. Condo was living between Paris and New York at the time. While in Paris, he met famous philosopher and writer Félix Guattari (mostly known for his collaborative publications with Giles Deleuze such as A Thousand Plateaus) in his studio, who was fascinated with Condo’s psychoanalytically loaded artworks. He conducted many interviews with the artist and also wrote the introductory text for his catalogue for Condo’s exhibition at Galerie Daniel Templon in 1990.
The humorous yet disturbing paintings produced by the artist in the 2000s are referred to by him as the genre “Psychological Cubism”, such as The Orgy (2004), Superman (2005), Batman and Bunny (2005) and God (2007).
In addition to his paintings having influenced many writers and poets of his time, such as Burroughs, Guattari, Allen Ginsberg, and fiction writer David Means, he has been commissioned on several occasions to make artworks for album and book covers for artists such as Kanye West, Jack Kerouac for his Book of Sketches (2006) The Story of the Ghost (Elektra, 1998) an album by Pish, Serenada Schizophrana (2006) by Danny Elfman.
He has had exhibitions in numerous renowned international museums, such as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, the Stalliche Kunthstalle Baden-Baden in Germany and Fonds National D'art Contemporain, Ministere de la Culture, Paris. His works are also in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Metropoilitan Museum and the MOMA in New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the Broad Foundation, Los Angeles among others.
A few notable exhibitions include George Condo: One Hundred Women at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg and Kunsthalle Bielefeld in 2005, George Condo: The Lost Civilization at the Musee Maillolin Paris featuring Felix Guattari’s reprinted text from 1990, his retrospective at the New Museum in New York in 2011, entitled Mental States, travelling on to the Netherlands, Germany and London and finally an extensive survey of Condo’s drawings at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C in 2017. He has been invited to lecture in major academic institutions including Harvard, Columbia and Yale.
Condo is undoubtedly one of the dominant forces on the market and is only getting better with age. Prestigious collectors such as Aby Rosen and Steven Cohen own his artworks. It’s general knowledge that buying a Condo is a secure investment guaranteed to pay off and since his New Museum retrospective in 2011, which kickstarted a steady rise in market prices, he has been consistently beating his own sales record at both auctions and art fairs through 2016, 2017 and 2018, the latter being the year when he set and broke his auction record three times.
Currently represented by Sprüth Magers, the Skarstedt Gallery and Simon Lee, Condo is living and working in New York, and remains one of the most influential artistic figures working across a range of mediums and interdisciplinary collaborations. He is also hopeful regarding the future of art:
“With all of the negativity in the world out there, art has this opportunity to be very truthful. Any artist will go out and do what they can to say “at least we tell the truth. What we say is what we mean and what we show is what it is.”