George Condo’s schtick

All images are details from Condo’s paintings at the New Museum.

In Jerry Saltz’s “Ask an Art Critic” column, reader Aaron Holtz asks why so many people love the George Condo exhibition at the New Museum. Here’s an excerpt from Saltz’s uncharacteristically dismissive answer along with a few excerpts from other reviews for comparison. When I saw the show I was struck by Condo’s painterly brio, but I haven’t given the paintings much thought since, except to wonder what their popularity might mean about our cultural legacy. Are audiences drawn to Condo’s work for the same reason that they’re drawn to reality TV, celebrity news, and junk food?  Condo isn’t an intellectually tight philosopher-painter, but he’s not a charlatan either, and his work certainly reflects the anti-intellectualism of our times.

Among living artists, George Condo may be the most embraced by the powers that be. The Times called his New Museum show �sensational.� That was just the beginning. Collectors love Condo�s paintings and buy them by the hundreds….I�m thrilled that the New Museum is having a success, and I admire the curators of the show, Laura Hoptman and Ralph Rugoff; however, to me, Condo is a zombie � a very limited, ironic, art-about-art artist whose work sounds the same visually derivative, technically generic notes over and over again. He provides almost no internal or psychic depth, instead giving people a sense of being in on some art-world in-jokes about style, tradition, kitsch, and appropriation.

The top floor of Condo�s show is the better of the two, because it blatantly imparts his deep content. More than 50 portraits hang here, floor to ceiling and wall to wall….But mostly you don�t have to look at any one painting here for more than a few seconds. That�s all they demand.

People always say Condo is a �virtuoso painter.� The second-floor display gives the lie to this claim. Condo is an enthusiastic confident drawer who paints in high-keyed funky color with flourish. But he is simply deft and dexterous, aping R. Crumb and Philip Guston without any of the gutsiness or exposed inner life of these artists…. Any idea of the grotesque is replaced by burlesque and shtick.

Condo�s is well-done work for a time still jittery about painting, weaned on idiotic ideas that it�s somehow suspect, that it can only be good if it makes jokes or comments about itself. This sort of deconstructionism has been done to death, and is so familiar and enfeebled that it can barely lift the gun to its own head. At his best, Condo is not much more than Koons-lite, a safe Schnabel, a more ingratiating Richard Prince….

Holland Cotter reports in the NYTimes: “He�s the missing link, or one of them (Carroll Dunham is another), between an older tradition of fiercely loony American figure painting � Willem de Kooning�s grinning women, Philip Guston�s ground-meat guys, Jim Nutt�s cubist cuties, anything by Peter Saul � and the recent and updated resurgence of that tradition in the work of Mr. Currin, Glenn Brown, Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz and others….Some of the paintings are stronger and stranger than others. But covering a long wall up to the ceiling, with no two images alike, they add up to a tour de force of stylistic multitasking and figurative variety. “

Howard Halle writes at Time Out New York: “Over the years, I�ve learned not to expect too much from exhibitions at the New Museum, as they tend toward visual and intellectual incoherence. So imagine my surprise at ‘Mental States,’ a three-decade survey of New York painter George Condo: It looks fantastic. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that close to 90 works have been crammed into the building�s third- and fourth-floor galleries. I�m guessing the artist himself oversaw the hanging; it certainly feels that way. But whatever the case, the show is a delight, and that comes from someone who never really counted himself as a Condo fan.”

In The Village Voice, ChristianViveros-Faun� suggests that Condo makes relentlessly attractive but meaningless paintings. “Mark Rothko, that dark star of righteousness, had a point (or three) to make about unchallenging art: ‘There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.’ Speaking to the widely held notion that ‘it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted,’ Rothko fulminated against the medium’s more carny impulses�its penchant to razzmatazz while saying nada. Condo’s paintings, recent critical genealogies aside, have historically proved Rothko’s dictum. Rather than being an acknowledged progenitor of the 1990s painting that shocked the art world�John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage‘s principal debt is to fusty William Bailey, the old Yale teacher they reacted against�Condo was more a loyal keeper of the medium’s flame when it fell out of favor. But consider for a minute Condo’s effect on those painters whom he did influence. Children of the art-market boom, artists like Dana Schutz, Kristin Baker, Josh Smith, Dan Colen, et al., have Condo�and Ashley Bickerton, among others�to thank for making it possible for them to produce relentlessly attractive paintings that are overwhelmingly, repetitively, maddeningly about diddly….More garden-variety harum-scarum than wicked, vexing, or disturbing in any compelling way, this hodge-podge of paintings proves all cartoony cleft palate and no bite.”

George Condo: Mental States,” curated by Ralph Rugoff, Laura Hoptman. The New Museum, New York, NY. Through May 8, 2011. The exhibition is accompanied by a 190-page catalogue, George Condo: Mental States, featuring essays by Ralph Rugoff, Laura Hoptman and novelists Will Self and David Means.

After its presentation at the New Museum in New York, a modified version of the exhibition, organized by the Hayward Gallery, will travel to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (June 25�September 25, 2011); Hayward Gallery, London (October 18, 2011�January 15, 2012); and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (February 23�May 28, 2012).

Installation view, 4th floor. Check out a  full photo essay at Hyperallergic.

var a2a_config = a2a_config || {};
a2a_config.linkname = “Two Coats of Paint”;
a2a_config.linkurl = “https://www.twocoatsofpaint.com”;
a2a_config.prioritize = [“delicious”, “email”, “linkedin”, “twitter”, “tumblr”, “stumbleupon”, “facebook”, “blogger_post”, “google_gmail”, “google_buzz”, “digg”, “aim”];


  1. Like John Currin's, Condo's work is high art Thrift Store. More than any of the other painters mentioned, thrift store art by anonymous Sunday artists is the big influence for certain painters today. Back in the 90's, I saw a touring exhibit of "real" thrift store art which looked a lot like Condo's New Museum show.

  2. The works shown on this website are by no means Condo's best works in my opinion. Viewing more of his show on Hyperallergic, reveals an interesting array of works although I'm not sure what if anything, Condo is trying to say.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *