In the summer of 2011 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presented the first major exhibition of work by the American artist George Condo in Europe. ‘George Condo: Mental States’ brings together more than seventy paintings and sculptures from American and European collections. Condo is famous for his extraordinary technical skill, his stylistic diversity and his highly original subject matter.
George Condo (1957) has demonstrated these qualities in his paintings for the past three decades. He moved to New York in the 1980s and together with painters such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, he helped to bring about a renewal of interest in painting in the international art scene.
George Condo is still influencing and astonishing his contemporaries today. He recently shocked the music world with his cover design for rapper Kanye West’s latest album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. The painting shows West naked in an erotic pose with a demonic grimace. Last year Condo designed a set of three limited-edition skateboard decks for the skate shop Supreme (based in New York and Japan). Other artists who have designed decks for Supreme include Damien Hirst.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has a unique collection of Surrealism, with masterpieces by Dalí and Magritte. George Condo’s paintings have a surreal quality that complements this collection. The exhibition charts his development from 1983 to the present day. The common thread in the exhibition ‘George Condo: Mental States’ is Condo’s investigation of the genre of portraiture, human physiognomy and various ‘states of mind’.
At the centre of the exhibition was a display of thirty of Condo’s paintings, with a great variety of styles and motifs, hung in the manner of a nineteenth-century salon. These portraits included fantasy characters and elements from masterpieces by artists such as Velasquez and Picasso, for example ‘Memories of Picasso’ (1989). Many of the characters are recognisable archetypes, such as butlers, businessmen, saints and other historical figures, but with absurd, grotesque features, such as ‘Nude Homeless Drinker’ (1999). This group of portraits was augmented by a series of sixteen sculptures in gilded bronze.
In addition to these portraits, there was a selection of paintings from all phases of Condo’s career. The paintings show outspoken ‘states of mind’: from lonely pathetic figures to exuberant scenes of decadence. Many of these figures contain both comic and tragic elements.
The exhibition was completed with several large-scale paintings that play with the distinction between abstraction and figuration. According to Condo, these paintings also show a ‘state of mind’, namely that of the artist. He recently stated:
‘Representational pictures are the artist’s body – abstractions are pictures of the artist’s mind’.
The American artist George Condo was born in New Hampshire. He studied art history and music theory at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and has gained a prominent position in the art world over the past three decades. Condo’s work has been shown in the Netherlands only once before: in 1985 at Galerie ’t Venster in Rotterdam. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York) and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo).
This travelling exhibition has been organised in partnership with the Hayward Gallery in London. The guest curator is Ralph Rugoff (director of the Hayward Gallery). After Rotterdam the exhibition will be shown at the Hayward Gallery and the Schirn Kunsthalle (Frankfurt).