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George Condo ascending…

[03 Apr 2018]

Shown on the cover of Phillips’ New Now sale catalogue in February 2018… exhibited opposite Pablo Picasso at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last month… the American artist George Condo is receiving ever-more support from the art market’s major players and his influence on the Contemporary scene is clearly growing. Meanwhile… his prices are soaring. Artprice takes a quick look at the career and market of this atypical artist.

In many respects, George CONDO’s oeuvre looks like a major exercise in dislocation ad absurdum of paintings by Old Masters and Modern artists. By revisiting the vocabulary of art history and transposing it into a more contemporary language, Condo plays a complex game with our own imaginations. Traces of Goya, Velazquez, Manet and Picasso traverse his paintings and resonate in our memories. We seem to recognize the characters Condo paints, although they are pure invention… Somehow managing to merge Pop culture, Cartoon culture and “traditional painting”, George Condo’s clownish figures somehow deconstruct the artifice of representation. In what Condo himself describes as artificial realism – a “realistic representation of that which is artificial” – he offers an uninhibited reading of art history that has already influenced many artists in the generation of Glenn Brown and John Currin.

History…

Condo emerged on the New York scene during the early 1980s at the same time as his friend Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (who persuaded him to move to New York) and Keith HARING. Having quit New Hampshire, he spent time at Andy Warhol’s Factory and began showing in East Village galleries. In 1983, Ulrike Kantor’s gallery in Los Angeles offered him his first solo exhibition and by 1985 he had gained the support of several major galleries in Rotterdam, Cologne, Zurich (Galerie Bruno Bischofberger), Tokyo, New York (Barbara Gladstone Gallery) and Los Angeles (Larry Gagosian). That same year, he moved to Paris where he lived for 10 years before returning to New York. During his Parisian period, the Daniel Templon Gallery gave him a show in 1990 (Recent Paintings 1989-90) and began to promote his work in France. Over the years, his works have been exhibited worldwide and found their way into prestigious institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

As of 2009, when Condo enjoyed a solo exhibition in the Dina Vierny-Musee Maillol Foundation in Paris (The Lost Civilization) and another at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, Condo’s market began to snowball. Between 2009 and 2011, his annual auction turnover multiplied by 5.6x (from $1.35 million to $7.5 million ) and, nowadays, his prices are rocketing past the million-dollar threshold.

Exhibitions → higher prices… and vice versa

In recent years the market prices of George Condo’s works have posted strong and steady growth. In fact, his meteoric rise (+1,093% since 2000 according to Artprice’s price index calculations) have made him a favourite with the major auction houses, which have even honoured his work in private exhibitions. Last year Phillips organised a major exhibition of more than 200 of his drawings (George Condo: The Way I Think, 11 March – 25 June, 2017) which then travelled to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. For Phillips, Condo has become a serious money spinner having sold nearly 200 of his works over the past four years, including three above the million-dollar line (Tumbling Heads, $1.05 million on 15 May 2008; Young Girl with Blue Dress, $1.5 million on 26 November 2017 and Woman & Man $1.8 million on 8 March 2018).

Naturally, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have had a similar success with works by George Condo. Where there’s demand… there’s intense competition: in November last year, Sotheby’s New York branch generated Condo’s current auction record of more than $4 million, four times the mid-range estimate, with a painting entitled Compression IV (2011). Last month Sotheby’s Hong Kong decided to promote Condo in very effective private exhibition of his painted portraits, “facing off” with portrait works by Pablo Picasso.

Although the exhibition was short (16-31 March 2018), it attracted a lot of attention. Organized during Art Basel Hong Kong, Sotheby’s announced the “encounter of two geniuses” via an exhibition-sale containing forty portraits with an overall value exceeding $300 million. The exhibition, Face-Off: Picasso /Condo, was based on several loans of works (just like a museum exhibition) to provide sufficient substance for a ‘dialogue’ between the two artists in the field of portrait painting. Throughout his life, Picasso deconstructed and reinvented this traditional genre with paintings of his family, his muses, his lovers, his friends and children, exploring his subjects from all perspectives and infusing his portraits with strong emotional and psychological expression.

Condo has a very different approach. He doesn’t start from an existing reality, but rather conceives purely imaginary portraits, deconstructing the faces in a ‘Cubist’ manner influenced by Picasso. In short, the exhibition is a veritable masterstroke: the mere fact of comparing Condo to an artist who has signed works worth over a 100 million dollars is a powerful signal to rich Asian collectors. The strategy cannot fail to increase the popularity of George Condo in Asia and boost a market that is generating more and more 7-digit results, with the latest three being hammered in March 2018 (London and New York). In fact, Condo’s work has already been sold successfully in Hong Kong. Last November, his Young Girl with Blue Dress fetched $1.5 million, more than double its high estimate. Asian collectors have already acquired a taste for figurative painting and for Western art in general. Presenting George Condo as an alternative to the great Picasso – the most expensive and most sought-after artist in the world – was bound to captivate them.

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