Ralph Rugoff, "The Mental States of America," in Exh. Cat., New York, The New Museum (and traveling), George Condo: Mental States, 2011, p. 18
George Condo’s Multi Figure Composition marries an expressionistic immediacy with measured conceptual deliberation, founded upon the artist’s profound understanding of art history and his ability to re-contextualize the masterpieces of the past so that they resonate with contemporary culture. Condo’s mode of portraiture has developed and shifted over the span of his career, and the present example represents an apex in this enduring thread, bringing together the aura of an Old Master painting with searing contemporaneity.
In the present work, the artist recalls the stratified compositions of Delacroix and Rembrandt, layering human figures so that they emulate architectonic features. After establishing himself in the East Village art scene of the early 1980s, Condo left the United States and settled in Paris. There, Condo became enamored with the masterworks of Europe’s past, absorbing the rigor and compositional devices of the Renaissance greats and employing them in his work. As the artist stated, “My interest was to turn ‘European Art’ into ‘American Art’ and to make that into a thing in my work. It was always something other American artists were trying to get rid of.” (The artist quoted in MUSE, No 27. Fall 2011).
Condo’s figures are situated against a dark baroque background, looking, with a disconcerting sense of confrontation beyond the border of the picture plane. Channeling the lineage of the odalisque with European Art, the artist subverts the sensuality and exoticism inherent to the subject, distorting the faces of his figures to make them monstrous and deformed. Describing his work as psychological cubism, the subjects within Multi Figure Composition reflect the pathos and inner turmoil of the contemporary age, often internalized in the structure and makeup of their bodies. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, Condo’s painting is an effusive salvo, reflecting a society in need of rehabilitation yet never devoid of irony.
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