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George Condo Humanoids Exhibition in Monaco

côte d'azur | …news & info

13 April 2023
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George Condo Humanoids exhibition is taking place in Monaco at Nouveau Musée National de Monaco  from March 31 to October 1, 2023  

In George Condo's own words, "the Humanoid is not a science fiction monster, it is a form of representation that uses traditional means to bring out the inner emotions onto the surface of a person". The mimetic ideal that has predominated in the history of art has led to the creation of an incalculable number of representations that are "similar" or "comparable" to humans. However, only a few rare effigies have attained the level of "humanoids" or "golems" seemingly on the point of coming to life. Rembrandt's portraits are among these. But how about a form of modern painting for which the "truth" of the medium (abstraction) replaced a realist project that the invention of photography had rendered obsolete?

Taking up this challenge, George Condo has moved modern painting towards the "almost human". He tackled the problem at its source: he seized Cubism, reversed its intentions and humanised it. He became the champion of "psychological Cubism", wanting to see in the deformations painted by Picasso or Braque, not the birth of "pure painting", but a realist exploration of the human psyche. In so doing, Condo has followed in the footsteps of Fénéon who, when he visited Picasso's studio at the time of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, advised the young artist to devote himself to caricature. Condo has pursued this path, placing Cubist deformation on the same level as that of the caricaturists: a unique way to reinvent Figuration. Over the course of six sections, the exhibition traces the continuity of a profuse body of work that ranges from "space beings" to Who's Who, from Guido Reni to Bugs Bunny. Featuring specially produced paintings, the exhibition offers a glimpse of the artist's process of invention - as crazy as it is erudite - of humanoids 

When George Condo committed to his vocation as an artist, the certitudes upon which modern art had based its authority were teetering on the brink. Like an Energizer bunny whose batteries had run low, the contemporary art of the 1970s faltered and stopped, mallet poised above the drum that kept time for its triumphal march. And yet it had all begun so well. At the outset of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso's geometric arrangement of a half-dozen prostitutes in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) had initiated a simplification and "purification" of artistic form that would, in the span of a few decades, cause art to become as light as a soap bubble (filled with "conceptual" air). In the mid-1970s, the momentum that carried Western society to ever-expanding growth faltered under the effects of the oil crisis, and people everywhere remembered that the earth and natural resources are finite. Unlimited consumption gradually gave way to energy management and recycling.

Having become a professional artist, George Condo was well-placed to understand the situation and anticipate the changes that lay ahead. For several years, he had been working for a printer who massproduced Andy Warhol images. Bridging the old and new worlds-half avant-garde and half postmodernist-Warhol seemed to move in step with a merrily industrious age. He had transformed his studio into a "Factory" and established a system of mass-production founded upon Taylorist principles. Condo, who was one of Warhol's workers for a time, couldn't have picked a better school for himself.1 If Warhol's production methods had one foot in the avant-garde (whose ethos oddly mirrored that of perpetually expanding industrialism), his iconography flourished in the "post"- modern world that had opened up in the 1970s-a world whose values were directly opposed to the individualism, rationality (both technical and scientific), and progress upon which modernism was founded.   

It was time for Condo to think of his art. Years later, he would say he was looking for "a statement that would stand up against Andy Warhol's soup cans"-not a work that would oppose Warhol, but a work that could formally and conceptually hold its own against him. The project was ambitious; what form it would take remained to be seen.   

Contrary to Warhol, Condo chose the museum, not the supermarket-a choice prefigured by his incessant wanderings through the halls of the universal museum. His encyclopedic knowledge of art history became the reservoir from which to extract an iconography. While the technique he laid claim to was contrary to Warhol's "detachment" or Picasso's fa presto, Condo was nevertheless far from seeing himself as a new Giorgio de Chirico. The latter had rediscovered the Old Masters in the collections of the Villa Borghese, after his "metaphysical" period that marked him out as one of the most innovative painters of his generation. De Chirico's reconnection with "great painting" led him to a vitriolic denunciation of modern art. Condo's Madonna, however, is no vengeful manifesto. When he was done, he took a ruler and scraped off some of the paint, making the image "sort of blurred, like a Francis Bacon." The act was meant to blot out a face he wasn't happy with. "In doing so it transformed it into something far more modern than I could have imagined," he says.

The "modernity" conferred by this gesture (a technique used as early as the 1960s in the blurred images of Gerhard Richter) made the Madonna a groundbreaking work. It heralded a contrary movement in painting, a fascination with and aggression towards classical painting-the first incarnation of the "terrible schizophrenia" that Condo recognizes as the main spring of his work. Over the years, Condo has tried to define the nature of this fundamental schizophrenia more precisely. Shrugging off critics and art historians all-too ready to speak of Marcel Duchamp and contemporary art, Condo defines this schizophrenia as a conflict between his attachment to classical art on the one hand, and the legacy of a reflexive, critical, "conceptual" modernity on the other. This schizophrenic split would soon become the matrix that gave a second birth to Warhol's comic-book characters, along with all the clowns and fools of the comédie humaine. 

George Condo, "When and why I began to paint humanoids"   

Humans weren't interesting anymore ... they had been painted time and time again over thousands of years in every way known to man. The human revolt had begun to transpose various earthly cultures into a synthetic representation of humanity ... at which point abstract artists such as Kazimir Malevich sought to eradicate it, leading into pure abstraction, which Wassily Kandinsky followed, and Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman completed. At this point, what was left of the human in painting? What was there in the minimalist movement of Donald Judd and Robert Ryman ... all the way up until Mark Dagley? Here is where the line was drawn between the concrete reality of the known and the interpretation of the unknown.... Pop culture was the "next" answer after abstract expressionism and action painting. Consumerism was the economic driving force, hence mankind and the machine were the dominating hierarchy of the industrial world.... This world transformed itself at that time to space exploration, leading to the first man on the moon. Einstein's theories had already gone from relativity to the atom bomb, the world became nuclear and from its existential ashes the Humanoid was born ... no stranger to the traditional means of painting but composed of the atomic man. The new human is one of technological advances and interplanetary resolve. A resolute being within its own right, the Humanoid came to me as a representation of the world. A world of artificial real ism ... the one we live in today, the world of disinformation, the world of similarities ... the simulacrum ... the realistic representation of that which is artificial or in essence man made. That is the how and why I came to create the Humanoid.

What is a Humanoid?

An inverted form of abstract art in the form of an emerging being ... a figure trapped in its own imagination of itself and therefore resembling on the surface that which he imagines in his mind. It is a way of taking nature or industrial space and transforming it into a human-like being. I could be on an ontological journey into the psyche seen from the perspective of a cartologist who is mapping out the voyage of the "human" to the "other" ... the fact that as humans we perceive that which is external to ourselves as real, does not mean that we consider our own self to be the way we perceive our own self. We may be inhabiting a self that is entirely our own to ourselves but not to those around us, who see it differently. Therefore, to arrive at the essence of oneself, could be perhaps irrelevant.... "I am" could mean "I am not." It's a psychological composition based on experiences that to one's own mind is exactly what we think it is but not the way others see it. To capture this phenomena in a portrait is to be able to work from the "inside out" ... to think for your subject in an entirely different way than the subject thinks for itself.... A Humanoid is then the closest thing to one's own perception in counterbalance to the perception of others ... but also a composite of the meaning of persona or outward appearance.... The appearance in Hegelian terms of the self as opposed to the "being-for-self" which is an Aristotelian concept.... That which appears to be oneself then is itself, as opposed to that which is the being of oneself and perhaps only in the being but not appearance of the self. So the being becomes the question....

Is it a human being?

Devoid of any perceptive rationale yet still in essence a self, or is it a self which has no resemblance to its perception of the being? A conundrum of existence perhaps ... that we as humans are of no particular identity other than the one imposed upon us by the rationale of others bereft of what is in our minds as ourselves. A Humanoid is born of this conundrum, it resembles to a certain extent a being ... that resembles a human ... yet it cannot think as an inanimate object, as a painting or a rock.... What is in the mind of a rock? Or anything devoid of a human mind...? What is in the mind of a painting-which is essentially a canvas with paint on it? What has a mind and what does not within the realm of a Humanoid? Does a human-like being possess reason? Reason that pertains to its own species, or could there be a language? Most people from one part of the world are unable to speak the language of a distant region of the planet.... So what then is the language of a Humanoid? Is it one that resembles his appearance ... a fractured vernacular understood by others of the fractured kind? Or a faceless figure?

How does it communicate without a mouth?

In the representation of these Humanoids one can somehow imagine a spoken means of communication loosely based on one's own ... regardless of the fact that a painting in and of itself cannot speak. The return of an uncivilized civilization ... vacated buildings in anonymous lots once home to the wealthy and prosperous, all of whom carried within them Humanoid hosts.... Living beings somewhat transparent whose reflections could not be seen in a mirror ... but could and did appear on canvas. They inhabited those who they could emerge within, taking on the form of peripheral beings while simultaneously central to the direct source of the existence of the carrier.... In other words, they were the person in paint more than the person itself 

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