It probably wasn’t such a good idea to go to the George Condo show at the New Museum hot on the heels of the resplendent Picasso show at the VMFA in Richmond, Virginia. Condo’s smart alecky, scattershot approach is just so lacking when compared to the master of exuberant, and comprehensive artistic daring do.
That Condo is trying hard to emulate Picasso, particularly in the area of portraiture is abundantly clear. One need look no further than Spanish Head Composition, Condo’s Picasso rift for affirmation. But he plain doesn't get it; it's all superficial—a lame attempt to reproduce what Picasso looks like rather than to understand the substance of what he was trying to accomplish.
Condo also seems to be sampling Francis Bacon but with none of Bacon’s subtlety and finesse. Bacon knows how to parse visual information, leaving much up to the viewer’s imagination, allowing him to connect the dots of his pulpy, grotesque visages. As a result, his work has immense psychological power.
Though Condo knows from paint and creates really beautiful surfaces—The Fallen Butler was extraordinary in this regard—his insistent use of monstrous faces, which reminded me of the sophomoric doodlings in a high schooler’s notebook are the visual equivalent of a phonograph needle scratching across a record making it impossible to see the forest for the trees. (Forgive the mixed metaphor, but the work inspires such misguided hyperbole.) Sadly, you lose sight of what a great painter Condo is on account of his sledgehammer shtick that he seems unable to drop.
But all was not lost. I actually liked his quasi-abstract work, which reveals a powerful sense of composition and allows Condo to revel in paint and surface. Here, I could not help but think of Gorky and Matta, but with Condo’s own vision shining through.