This George Condo exhibition at the Musée Maillol
completes a trilogy of shows which began with an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and continued with the Parisian work of Keith Haring. These three artists who shared the same galleries all came onto the New York art scene in the early 1980s and their personal styles all made a mark on American painting and, more broadly speaking, on contemporary art in general.
Born in Concorde, New Hampshire, in 1957, Condos canvases combine Cubism, Expressionism, Classicism and cartoon styles. He is one of the most influential American artists on the international scene today.
The canvases made between 2007 and 2008 are part of a series to which the painter has given the name Lost Civilization. Condos ideas about the artwork necessarily undergoing a mutation over time bring to mind André Malrauxs theory of the metamorphosis of art. With Lost Civilization, Condo produces untimely images in which the influence of the past combines with the irruption of the present.
George Condos painting is like a slap in the face to consensus and accepted notions of good taste in art. His work draws provocatively on the history of painting much in the way that Francis Picabia once did, and as René Magritte did in his Vache period. Like a musician, Condo samples elements from the vocabularies of Manet, Velázquez, Picasso and Abstract Expressionism and integrates them into new compositions that offer a fresh take on their endless potential. In Mechanical Maid, for example, Condo handles the figure in a manner worthy of Frans Hals while the face undergoes Cubist-style distortion and the background recalls the saturated colours of Francis Bacon. How can something new be made out of what is old? How can the style of the Old Masters be recaptured and connected with the heritage of modern art? Such are the questions raised by this painting. The heterogeneity of Condos style enables him to develop a gallery of imaginary characters such as Uncle Joe, Rodrigo and Jean-Louis. To describe them, he refers to the physiognomic theories of Lavater, according to which peoples physical features reflected their soul. The artist depicts mental states, imagining combinations of features to describe inner life.
Condos undying punkiness would have made him the perfect addition to the threesome of the Pieds Nickelés, the famous French comic heroes from LÉpatant magazine. He would have been the painter of the group, for he shares with Croquignole, Filochard and Ribouldingue the jovial puerility seen in them by Georges Bataille, who detected the real issues behind their iconoclasm and contempt for conventions: And if we give amusement a sufficiently Mexican meaning, that is to say, as an always more or less out-of-place intervention in the most serious areas, then amusement may well appear as the only reduction of idealism. (From the text by Didier Ottinger for the catalogue of the exhibition).