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In the 1980′s, George Condo, born in Concord, New Hampshire, arrived in New York, after having been in California, and became close friends with members of Andy Warhol’s Factory including Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He collaborated with the heroes of the Beat Generation, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Of this time, it was written: “His work was governed by the reworking of the Old Masters, in a lyric universe in which the human being is decomposed in a multiplicity of non-human beings merged from his own unconsciousness: ‘I conceive artistic language as my own natural reactions, a combination of rational and irrational.’ ” (denoirmont)
He worked together successfully with Burroughs, which included a visit to Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas. Condo said: “We both disintegrated in each other’s presence and became a third being.” However, each retained their individuality as well with Condo contributing a cartoon aspect to their conceptual sculpture of layered images.
Though his work, qualified as a “figurative abstraction”, it is quite impossible to determinate a frontier between representation and abstraction, between academic art and avant-garde, between popular imagery and High Art. His female figures are described as ferocious and highly aggressive types and are intended to dispel any sense of submissiveness or timidity.
Condo, who remains known primarily for his cartoon-like portraits has also turned to sculpture with works that include jazz themes—monumental stainless steel letters spelling out the names of music legends like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. His sculptural works also include abstract bronzes and 32 busts of invented deities, a group of works inspired by the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
George Condo was raised in a family where the father was a math and physics professor. For two years, he attended the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, where his father taught, and taking art history classes, became very enamored with Caravaggio and other Old Masters. He later did paintings that he called fake Old Masters, which had elements of abstraction and unique treatment that got the attention of younger artists. While in college, he also played bass guitar with a punk rock group called the Girls, and landed in New York City because of a music “gig”.
However, in 1981, he moved to Los Angeles, and became friends with Roger Herman, a local artist. Herman’s influence led to gallery representation and some sales, but by the mid 1980s, Condo was back in New York, the place he perceived as the center of action, and was offered gallery shows. From that time, his career has been a success underscored by special recognition such as receiving in 1999 the Academy Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the release in 2000 of a feature film titled Condo Paintings, directed by John McNaughton; and a visiting lectureship at Harvard University.
He also has stirred big-time controversy such as in England in 2006, when he entered a portrait painting of Queen Elizabeth in his attention-getting ‘laugh-out-loud’ style at the Tate Modern in London. He titled the work, Cabbage Patch Queen, “after the cutely homely kids’ doll”, and “the reaction was nuclear. . . . Royal Academy members were furious”. From that event, he had a lot of fall out, but is still convinced that “Noble subjects can be painted in a jocular manner with no loss of dignity to the sitter.” (Plagens, 185)
Condo has work is in permanent collections of major museums worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Ludwig Museum, Cologne; etc.
He is married to Italian actress, Anna Condo, and they have two children. Although he is not fond of travel, they did live in Cologne from 1983 to 1984, and Paris from 1984 to 1985. The family lives on the upper East Side of New York City, which he likes because “there are no other artists around.” (Plagens, 183)
Art Forum, November 1994
Art & Auction, September 2003
Peter Plagens, “Fake Tiepolos and the Cabbage Patch Queen”, ARTnews, Summer 2007, p. 183
Biography from the Archives of AskART.