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. It 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 from 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 an iconic style that mixes references from pop culture, Disney, graffiti, and Surrealism to famous painters such as Velazquez, Picasso, and Francis Bacon into a distinct aesthetic that is entirely his 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 The Girls, through which he met the Abstract painter Mark Dagley and the legendary 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 at Andy Warhol’s factory on the 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 as a genre to describe his hybrid practice merging Old Master 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.”
Since then he has continued to develop new styles including the genre he dubbed “Psychological Cubism” which can be seen in his humorous yet disturbing paintings from the 2000s, such as The Orgy (2004), Superman (2005), Batman and Bunny (2005) and God (2007).
In 1983, Condo moved to LA for a short period where he had his first solo exhibition with the Ulrike Kantor Gallery, followed by a longer, highly successful period he spent in Europe. He had his first solo presentation in Europe was in Germany in 1984, at the Monika Sprueth Gallery, which featured what is perhaps his 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. One of his most famous works, 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 & WRITERS
A significant body of work in Condo's oeuvre is a collaboration with William S. Burroughs, featuring both painting and sculpture made between 1988 and 1996, which culminated 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), who was fascinated with Condo’s psychoanalytically-loaded artworks. He conducted many interviews with the artist and also wrote the introductory text for the catalogue for Condo’s exhibition at Galerie Daniel Templon in 1990.
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 writers and bands such as Jack Kerouac, for his Book of Sketches (published posthumously in 2006), Phish, for their album The Story of the Ghost (Elektra, 1998), and composer Danny Elfman for his record Serenada Schizophrana (2006).
He has had exhibitions in numerous renowned international museums, such as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, the Stalliche Kunthstalle Baden-Baden in Germany, and the Fonds National D'art Contemporain, Ministere de la Culture, in Paris. His works are also in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, and the MoMA in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles among others.
Further 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 Musée Maillol, Paris featuring Felix Guattari’s reprinted text from 1990; a retrospective at the New Museum in New York in 2011, entitled Mental States, which travelled 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.
ON THE MARKET
Condo is undoubtedly one of the dominant forces on the art market and his name only gains further critical acclaim as his work progresses. His work is viewed by collectors as a secure investment. He remains one of the most influential artistic figures, due in part to his ability to work across a range of mediums and disciplines to create work that inspires, provokes, and evolves. He is 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.’”