In 1988 the art critic Roberta Smith wrote in the New York Times: “In a sense Mr. Condo makes things that look like paintings, that have presence, completeness and frontal tautness of paintings, yet in some essential ways are not so much paintings as artefacts, signs of another time and place, layered thickly with talent and nostalgia and a particular dandyish form of conservatism”.
Painting as an artefact, painting as a sign of other times is organically derived from the fact that art is a profound social activity that establishes a mode of communication between the artist and his contemporaries and the artists that preceded him. Aesthetic pioneers like Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon excavated classical periods, styles and subjects like the crucifixions by rethinking and reworking them over and over again until a new aesthetic was born. Unprecedented are the improvisations on Arcimboldo, Velasquez, Rembrandt and Picasso by George Condo. Like the freestyle Jazz improvisations of Miles Davis, who happens to be one of the artist’s favourite musicians, a stream of visual improvisations evolved out of Condo’s engagement with historic painting styles, periods and subjects.
From 1985 to 1995 Condo lived in Paris in the same building as the philosopher Félix Guattari who wrote in 1990 about the works of George Condo: “You sacrifice everything to this effect, particularly pictorial structure, which you systematically destroy, thus removing a protective guardrail, a frame of reference which might reassure the viewer”.
Indeed, George Condo did anything but reassuring his viewers.
In order to create a sense of harmony the artist started with meticulously painted canvasses that cross-referenced mythology and the old Masters. This initial harmony was then immediately destroyed by the emergence of caricatural personages with grotesque and animal-like features. Boldly opposing the well-balanced subjects of the Old Masters. By destroying this protective guardrail, the artist leaves the viewer alone with his grotesque characters, most of them balancing on the brink of insanity. A raw and unmasked world is revealed in which the exploration of the absurd and traumatic decomposition of the subjects form the central focus. Bruised imagery is set against monocoloured flat backgrounds celebrating the manifestation of decomposed bodies and minds.
In the early Nineties George Condo referred to his subjects as pod people or characters of the pod after the antipodes that were described by Aldous Huxley in his essay “Heaven and Hell”. Huxley used the term antipodes to describe those particular regions of the mind that could only be reached via meditation, fasting, sleep deprivation and via the aid of substances like LSD. These antipodes of the mind have nothing to do with the normal world as they fulfil no purpose for the functioning of our being in our daily lives.
Crowds of imaginary archetypical characters, like the banker, the butler, the alcoholic, the sculptor and the French guy called Jean Louis fill Condo’s canvasses, often having multiple conversations while simultaneously displaying a wide-ranging spectrum of mental states. People who are normally in control of their feelings and behaviour appear in front of the viewer having spontaneous mental and physical breakdowns. George Condo shows, contrary to our idolised beauty standards that value slick characterless appearances and hairless bodies, instantaneous meltdowns of a Theatrum Mundi of individuals that are on the brink of insanity or just tipped over.
The Dream radically includes the “ugliness” of our shadow lives, curiously clouding under the surface while we are in the supermarket, having a date or attending a job interview. Captured on canvas the abhorrent bare states of the mind stare us right in the face. Our sense of beauty is shamelessly being provoked and challenged by the inclusion of repulsion as an indispensable element of beauty. Contradictory elements of attraction and revulsion are blended sophisticatedly into a perfect amalgamation of conflicting and harmonious accords. Resulting in a dark and twisted improvisation on the historical depiction of dreams. Condo’s archetypical characters know the viewer is watching them as they make sassy eye contact while exposing their frontal nudity. The exhibitionism of their emotions takes place against colourful flat backgrounds that magnify their unravelling mental states.
One thing is for sure, if Freud would still be alive today he would have been thrilled about this case!