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)
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