George Condo, the New York-based American painter who has been creating images of a predominantly self-invented cast of outlandish, tragi-comic characters since the early 1980s...
Who? George Condo, the New York-based American painter who has been creating images of a predominantly self-invented cast of outlandish, tragi-comic characters since the early 1980s. Having started at the Factory in 1981, working as a screen printer and diamond duster, Condo spent some time exhibiting in the States, before moving to Paris for a decade. It was in Zurich that the artist had his first seminal show in 1985, showing 300 works at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger. After permanently moving back to New York in the mid-90s, Condo received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, more recently, has designed costumes for the ballet, created masks for fashion designer Adam Kimmel, and designed a record cover for Kanye West.
What? Frequently defined as ludicrous in appearance and mentally unsound – what the artist has called 'antipodal beings' – Condo's depiction of figures has allowed for an exploration of his subjects' inner emotions and states of mind through a portraiture that regularly unifies classic cartoonish forms within Cubist and Ab Ex arrangements, handled through painting techniques borrowed from the Old Masters. Nearly 80 works are currently on display in Mental States at the Hayward Gallery – an exhibition of Condo's work from the last three decades. Including a wide range of paintings, starting in 1982 with The Madonna, described by Condo as his first mature work, the exhibition is organised thematically into three sections focusing on the primary topics with which the artist has been concerned: Portraiture, Abstract-Figuration, and Mania and Melancholy. Although detailing a very contemporary mind frame, Condo continuously demonstrates a talent for referencing a range of his personal greats within the canon, whether the early Americans, like Philip Guston or De Kooning, or the old Europeans, such as Arcimbolo and Goya.
"Considering the amount of attention given to other artists of his generation such as John Currin and Glenn Brown, this retrospective display is hugely overdue"
Why? Surprisingly, Mental States is the first institutional career survey given to Condo. Considering the amount of attention given to other artists of his generation such as John Currin and Glenn Brown – both undoubtedly indebted to Condo although much less interesting and inventive – this retrospective display is hugely overdue. Catch it before it closes next month.
Mental States is at the Hayward Gallery until January 8 2012.
Text by Allie Biswas