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“I think the whole act of making art has nothing to do with the medium within which you work… You can paint, draw, write, etc., but the act itself always remains the same.”
The Museum of Cycladic Art hosts the exhibition "George Condo at Cycladic", George Condo’s first large personal museum exhibition in Greece. The exhibition presents a total of 30 works -including paintings, sculptures and drawings - which span the past 20 years of the artist’s career. Exhibited for the first time at the exhibition George Condo at Cycladic is a series of paintings and drawings created in 2017, including a rare suite of self-portraits titled Self portrait in Paris 1-3 (2017) and Me, Myself and Him (2017).
Rather than a chronological display of the artist’s oeuvre in the form of a retrospective, George Condo’s exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art is a selection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures that implore us to explore the human figure, a principal theme of the Museum of Cycladic Art’s contemporary exhibitions program.
Condo, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Jeff Koons, was instrumental in reviving figuration in America in the 1980s and is considered one of the most important American figurative sculptors and painters to this day. He belongs to a generation of artists who had to work their way backwards into realism, seeing that at the time, in a post Abstract-Expressionist landscape, figuration had been put on hold while conceptual art and minimalism were at the forefront of artistic practices. Balancing between the beautiful and the grotesque, the mundane and the absurd, high art and commercial ‘pop’ art, Condo’s fresh artistic creations make of him one of the most inventive artists of his generation.
The exhibition "George Condo at Cycladic" aims to showcase the references, ideas, and mastered skills collected by the artist over time. Condo’s work, infused with deep literary, musical and art historical knowledge seems to be a reflection of his character, an extension of himself: charismatic, grand, insightful, cultivated, elegant, and with a great sense of humor. Cheeky grins, goggle eyes, rows of teeth, and budding heads—whether in black ink or in bursts of yellow, green, purple and orange—make up the figures of Condo’s frenetic world.
The exhibition includes, among other works, the sculptures Totemic Personage (2012) and Nude on Wine Crates 2 (2016), in which fragmentation and reconfiguration appear as integral to Condo’s work and Internal Space (2005), which proves that a work of art can be both representational and abstract. The paintings Homeless Harlequins (2004), Grinning Harlequin (2005), and Laughing Priest (2004) showcase Condo’s characteristic practice of recording the daily absurdities of life through a cast of characters that inhabit his mind, leaving behind his very own commedia dell’ arte. Paper Faces (1997) is a monumental work in which Condo brings together a number of characteristic motifs of his work.
The human figure in Cycladic Art & the work of George Condo
This is a painting. It’s not a fake painting, it’s a painting from an imaginary character’s reality. That’s why I work with a cast of characters, all created carefully. As each of them becomes real, so do their environments, their place of being. Sometimes, I think they even come from some imaginary character’s mind.”
With the anthropocentric nature of ancient Cycladic society as a starting point, the MCA’s contemporary art program focuses on exhibitions that explore the human figure. The timelessness of the human figure and its numerous artistic manifestations—ancient, modern, and contemporary—form the basis for the dialogue that the MCA aims to establish between its permanent collection and contemporary art exhibitions.
The figure has been at the center of artistic exploration and practice since prehistory. Looking at artifacts of the Cycladic culture (c. 3200 – c. 2000 BC) from the permanent collection of the MCA it becomes apparent that Cycladic society was primarily anthropocentric. As Cycladic culture flourished in the Early Bronze Age, images of everyday life were captured in figurines such as the cupbearer, the harp player, and dancers, now in the MCA’s collection. Today, Cycladic culture is etched in the minds of people across the world in the unique, iconic form of the Cycladic figurine.
Condo’s practice is rooted in the representation of the self or, as he puts it, one’s “many selves”, referencing the art, philosophy, and literature of the past. Playing with both time and iconography, Condo has looked to Greek Classical art, seventeenth-century Dutch old master painters, as well as Francisco Goya, Diego Velasquez, and Pablo Picasso among others.
Condo documents the absurdities of contemporary daily life: the banker, the priest, our own twentieth and twenty-first-century middle class and clergy. In his very personal and singular iconic manner Condo ignites in our mind entire stories about each of his protagonists. The very physiognomy of his subjects is studied and exploited materializing into a new form of portraiture, which evidently combines elements of Cubism, Surrealism, notions of high and low art, abstraction versus figuration, and often the grotesque side of life; for the ultimate goal to portray the complexity of the human mental state of our times.
Within his works, characters assemble from all walks of life, in all sorts of mental states, giving us a peek into Condo’s mind—an immense bank of references, ideas and mastered skills, collected over time
George Condo, The Bulgarian Banker, 2010, Bronze © George Condo, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt, New York