Lot 25
  • 25

George Condo

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • George Condo
  • Day of the Idol
  • signed and dated 2011
  • acrylic, charcoal, and pastel on linen
  • 68 by 66 in. 172.7 by 167.6 cm.


Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2011

Catalogue Note

Painted in a kaleidoscopic riot of color, the dense organization of captivating figures that dominate George Condo’s Day of the Idol represents a brilliant fusion of many of the artist’s most important touchstones: Old Master portraits, his own brand of ‘psychological Cubism,’ cartoon references, and a commitment to constantly pushing the boundaries that separate figurative and non-representational painting. Following a nine-month stint as the diamond duster in Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory, Condo emerged onto the 1980s New York art scene alongside seminal figures like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Like his peers, Condo was critically engaged throughout the eighties in bringing to life a new form of figurative painting that stylistically blended the representational and the abstract. Condo coined the terms ‘artificial realism’ and ‘psychological Cubism' to define his lexicon of amusing caricatures, profound and intimate portraits, and grotesque abstractions. Simon Baker writes: “Artificial realism…can play out in the adoption or adaptation of contrasting and conflicting materials from both the history of art and popular culture, from the esoteric diagrams explaining the compositional secrets of the Old Masters to the incredible and unlikely abstractions inherent to animated cartoon characters. But in each case, what is most important is the blurring of distinctions between representational codes and languages that occurs when during the transposition whereby Condo, as he puts it, ‘dismantles one reality and constructs another from the same parts.’” (The artist quoted in 2012 in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 55) Within Condo’s creative output, the genre of portraiture occupies a position of tremendous importance. Taking inspiration from masters as unalike as Diego Velázquez, Edouard Manet, Giorgio de Chirico, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, Condo has woven into the fabric of figurative painting a renewed interest in inserting art historical tropes into a playful and absurd new context, both reviving and humorously undermining the integrity of the genre of portraiture. For Condo, it is the imaginary potential of portraits that defines the genre for him; as such, the artist tends to paint from his own mental snapshot or emotional reaction, rather than from life. Charged with emotional intensity and psychological depth, Day of the Idol features a crowd of figures whose profiles are as disparate as the Virgin Mary and Bugs Bunny. Crushed together in a bizarre and nonsensical composition, the figures’ heads align along the same horizontal axis, below which their bodies are fragmented into disjointed planes of color. An enormous range of human emotion is on display across this spectrum of figures; joy, terror, hilarity, fury, and ecstasy collide in a riot of forms that bridges the gap between an emotional state and a physical reality. Condo painted Day of the Idol at a moment in his career when he had pushed the limits of his iconic ‘pod’ figures, now fragmenting, extrapolating, and wedging them back together in impossible configurations. Just as Pablo Picasso fractured the picture plane in order to reveal the way light hits different sides of an object, so Condo shattered the human psyche in order to reveal different angles of the same person.

Although these ‘unedited human disasters’ possess no true verisimilitude to their referents, the churning collision of forms is perhaps one of the most honest and accurate representations of a complicated modern psychology: teeth, glee, rage, smiles, insanity, cheeks, loneliness, and eyes crushed together in an almost unbearable state of being. Condo has established himself in the canon of Western art history as a master puppeteer of the human psyche, presenting to his audience forms that delight and repulse, amuse and sadden, welcome and alienate. His unraveling and subsequent reassembly of various pictorial languages has cemented him as one of today’s most clever and cutting-edge contemporary painters. As Holland Cotter notes in his review of George Condo: Mental States at the New Museum in 2011: “Mr. Condo is not a producer of single precious items consistent in style and long in the making. If that’s what you want from painting, he’ll disappoint you. He’s an artist of variety, plentitude and multiformity. He needs to be seen in an environment that presents him not as a virtuoso soloist but as the master of the massed chorale.” (Holland Carter, “A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes,” The New York Times, January 27, 2011)