George Condo has been a singular voice in American and European art for almost three decades. Born in 1957 in New Hampshire, he studied art history and music theory at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. In 1980 he arrived in New York, where he quickly became part of the burgeoning East Village art scene. Exhibiting at the Pat Hearn Gallery along with painters such as Mary Heilmann and Philip Taaffe, and becoming close friends with artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Condo developed a unique painting style, employing the virtuoso draftsmanship and paint handling of the old masters to depict subject matter that sprang largely from his imagination.
In the context of early 1980s New York, Condo’s paintings—which he called “fake old masters”—displayed a provocative untimeliness. While many artists at the time borrowed specific imagery from historical sources, Condo instead adopted the styles, techniques, and methods of earlier painters and applied them to subjects distinctly his own. Over the next two decades, he went on to explore an astonishing variety of aesthetic territories, from Mannerist ornamentalism to Picasso-esque Cubism, drawing from Diego Velázquez to Looney Tunes. Possessed of an enormous memory bank of art historical references, Condo synthesized these past pictorial languages and motifs to create, as he put it, “composites of various psychological states painted in different ways.”
Condo is exceptionally prolific and has produced an enormous body of work since the beginning of the 1980s. The bulk of it has been portraiture, not of living individuals but of invented characters. Many early portraits, while often fantastical, evoke complex and precarious mental states. Over the past decade, Condo has introduced a range of distinctly contemporary types: figures that despite their apparently commonplace social roles seem to belong to the furthest extremes of the human psyche. In paintings like these, which in his words, “reflect the madness of everyday life,” meticulous attention to naturalistic detail is coupled with elements of the grotesque and the absurd.
“George Condo: Mental States” presents what the artist has called a “conceptual survey” of work over the past thirty years. Divided into four sections, each of which examines a particular theme or genre central to his work, the exhibition reveals his tragicomic vision. It demonstrates that no matter how varied his artistic language or strategy, Condo’s paintings and sculptures create a singular view—dystopic, humorous, empathetic, and critical—of our post-humanist age.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 190-page catalogue, produced by Hayward Publishing. George Condo: Mental States features essays by Ralph Rugoff, Director, Hayward Gallery; Laura Hoptman, Curator, the Museum of Modern Art and former Kraus Family Senior Curator at the New Museum; as well as the novelists Will Self and David Means.
After its presentation at the New Museum in New York, a modified version of the exhibition, organized by the Hayward Gallery, will travel to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (June 25–September 25, 2011); Hayward Gallery, London (October 18, 2011–January 15, 2012); and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (February 23–May 28, 2012).
"George Condo: Mental States" is made possible through the generous lead support of Laura and Stafford Broumand, Steven and Alexandra Cohen, Nathalie and Charles de Gunzburg, Lise and Michael Evans, Danielle and David Ganek, Panos Karpidas, Pauline Karpidas, Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, The Lisa and Steven Tananbaum Family Foundation, the Ringier Collection, and Allison and Neil Rubler.
Additional support provided by The Broad Art Foundation.
Special thanks to Per Skarstedt, Monika Sprüth, and Philomene Magers for their ongoing cooperation and support.
This exhibition is organized by the Hayward Gallery, London and New Museum, New York.