George Condo – Figmental Figures


Figmental Figures is an exploration of the work of George Condo. What appears to be portraits are, in fact, invented imagery, some filled with Condo’s so-called ‘Pod people’. Derived from the word “antipode” meaning direct opposite of something, these Pod people have a literary lineage based on Aldous Huxley’s essay ‘Heaven and Hell’ which dives into new explorations of the mind.

Cartoon-like and slightly monstrous, these portraits are a wonderful expression of post-modern art and thinking. As described by the V&A, “the Postmodern object reflected the desire to combine subversive statements with commercial appeal”. In this statement is the beating heart of Condo’s paintings which even in their push to defy expectations, they are nevertheless attractive. Take for example, The Arrival, The Departure– from the priestly raiment to the clouds, this work suggests the religious paintings of Old Masters like Murillo but is upended by the psychoanalytic possibilities of the Pod figure, vegetables, and cigarettes.

Abstract Face, created in the peak of 1980s postmodernism, recall abstract and cubist portraits while also subverting our expectations. Condo’s visual vocabulary captures a wide range, mixing high and low art, Old Masters, and antiquities. Condo paints from memory and in looking at these two artworks, the viewer can envision how these paintings are refracted and recollected images dredged up from Condo’s memory of art history and of psychological states.

Figmental Figures showcases Condo’s ‘Artificial Realism’ approach to portraiture, which, in an appropriate case of tautology, he defines as the ‘realistic representation of that which is artificial’. Painting is artificial though it may depict in a realistic manner. Think of René Magritte’s insistence that a painting of a pipe is not a pipe. The audience can see how Condo has followed this to its logical (and postmodern) conclusion in these imaginary portraits brimming with real psychological examinations.