From 26 September to 28 November 2021, Long Museum (West Bund) presents the largest solo exhibition by George Condo in Asia, ‘The Picture Gallery.’ Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and designed in collaboration with world-renowned architect Annabelle Selldorf, the exhibition focuses on some of the most important cycles and bodies of works that have defined Condo’s art since the late 1970s, when the artist was among the first to herald a critical return to painting after decades of conceptual art practices.
‘The Picture Gallery’ opens with a new cycle of paintings specifically realized for the Long Museum, which combine free gestural interventions with drawn figurative notations. Grouped under the title ‘Blues Paintings,’ this new body of work plays with musical references ranging from blues music to free jazz, while also composing an elegiac atmosphere. Condo refers to these works as a ‘lamentation for the return to the so-called new normal’ in the wake of the months of lockdown that followed the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Blues Paintings’ stand in stark contrast with a selection of important early works, throughout which Condo depicts imaginary creatures, cartoon characters, and his legendary ‘antipodular beings’ with the fastidiousness of an old master. Condo’s ability to bend traditional techniques to unexpected ends is also in full display in a massive salon-style installation featuring more than 30 portraits made over the last four decades. Combining an acute psychological insight with a maddening physiognomic imagination, Condo’s portraits seemingly compose a cast for a new theater of the absurd, mysteriously conflating comedy and tragedy.
In the cycle titled ‘The American Wing,’ paintings and largescale silkscreens portray American junk food, B movie actors, and television personalities, often overpainted with Condo’s cursive characters. Articulating Condo’s caustic take on American culture, ‘The American Wing’ likewise reflects on the role of museums in the construction of myths of national identity and culture.
Condo further extended his exploration of the human psyche into physical space in his sculptures. Cast in a variety of precious metals such as bronze and gold, the works immediately evoke multiple traditional sculptural techniques. But in Condo’s anarchic approach to figuration, art history and chronology can be reconfigured at will, according to a cut-up method that dissolves hierarchies and conventional narratives. This tension between futurism and archaism returns in ‘Black Paintings,’ a rarely exhibited group of works from 2019 in which Condo depicts cyborgs and robots torn by existential doubts, ostensibly pushed to the edge of survival.
Condo’s systematic confrontation with art history–both as a medium and a subject of his work–continues in a series of ‘Neo-Renaissance’ paintings and portraits of fictional aristocratic characters. In these paintings, Condo, once again, blends technical bravura with an irreverent approach to tradition.
A cycle of recent oil stick paintings reveals the ways in which the artist has assimilated the tragic events of 2020. In works such as ‘Father and Daughter with Face Mask’ and ‘Up Against the Wall,’ Condo reflects on isolation, proximity, and distance as the defining forces that have shaped life in the past year and a half.
Alongside the debut of ‘Blues Paintings,’ ‘The Picture Gallery’ also premieres a new group of ‘Toy Heads,’ a cycle of paintings in which Condo continues his investigation around the construction of subjectivity and the endless possibilities of reinvention of the self. The exhibition is completed by a cabinet of drawings, presenting more than 70 drawings, starting from sketches realized when the artist was just a teenager up to a series of careful studies for his paintings and recent largescale works. Together, these drawings, made over forty years, offer an unexpected insight into Condo’s ebullient creative process.
Born in New Hampshire in 1957, Condo moved to New York in 1979. He quickly became a central figure in the East Village art scene at the moment when the collision of New Wave music, graffiti art, and appropriation tactics began to redefine the entire creative geography of New York City for years to come. By the early 1980s, Condo’s specific approach to painting combined influences from Cubism, Surrealism, and other 20th-century avant-garde movements with cartoon characters and vernacular imagery, inaugurating a new kind of figuration which the artist defined as ‘artificial realism.’
Massimiliano Gioni is the Edlis Neeson Artistic Director of the New Museum and the director of the Trussardi Foundation in Milan. He has curated numerous international exhibitions and biennials including the 55th Venice Biennale (2013), the 8th Gwangju Biennale (2010), the first New Museum Triennial (co-curated with Lauren Cornell and Laura Hoptman in 2009), the 4th Berlin Biennale (co-curated with Maurizio Cattelan and Ali Subotnick in 2006) and Manifesta 5 (co-curated with Marta Kuzma in 2004).
Long Museum West Bund is located at the center of the West Bund Culture Corridor in Binjiang, Xuhui District, Shanghai, No.3398, Longteng Avenue. Designed by Liu Yi-chun, a Chinese architect from Atelier Deshaus, the building covers an area of 33,000 square meters with up to 16,000 square meters for exhibition space. Long Museum West Bund was officially opened to the public on March 2014.
Image courtesy Long Museum