George Condo’s Christ the Subjective Nature of Objective Representation at Luhring Augustine
As a portrait artist in the tradition of Rembrandt, George Condo reveals the shadows we try to hide: the pathos, fear, sadness, anger and even madness. Condo's portraits are kind of inside out. Negative emotions, even insanity is a person's primary feature while actual physical features are abstracted to serve the portrayal of the intense emotions. Thus, Condo's work has ties to abstract expressionism, too.
According to Luhring Augustine's , Press Release for the exhibit that runs through March 29,2008) religious art is the single most represented subject in the history of art. Religious art has been painted by most of the Western World's greatest painters, and George Condo is joining the group with this exhibit. This exhibit is not to be missed Contemporary High Art.
The exhibit itself is a work of art as each of the four paintings references the others to create a whole. It is a two scene tableau of a morality play, contemporary style. The physical presentation of an entry room leading to a interior “holy of holies” echoes the Biblical plan for the Temple as well as those for cathedrals and churches as we move from the profane into the profound.
The narrative appears to be Christian but the depiction of the story goes straight to the core of theology and spiritual; truth that is Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc., and always relevant.
On a first and superficial glance the entry room contains three large rectangular paintings, each depicting a crucifixion. Each has a dark, blackish background and a large cross intersects its center with a lively, but crucified person affixed to it. To the right is Jesus, then two thieves: Gestas in front and Dismas to the left.
These crucifixions totally lack the usual divine pathos, self sacrifice, repentance (the thieves) forgiveness and tragedy. Those familiar with Condo's work will recognize them as three of the recurring characters who play various roles in Condo's works.
Like Rembrandt, Condo is a talented and trained artist who can paint and draw elegantly and realistically when he desires. He has more than proven this in other works, including ones that include familiar imagery by Rembrandt. The crucified figures are raw, sometimes lacking detail or crudely painted. They are even repulsive as they may have with carnivorous teeth, eyes that bulge with disbelief or stare in horror or terror, twisted mouths and faces, but they all seem to share one physical characteristic (and do in this exhibit) they all have the button noses of clowns.
Gestas is the only one with small smudges of red blood on his nailed hands and near the spot where a crude spear has been thrust into his side. He is suffering an indignity, not pain and his eyes pop with rage as they stare at this affront.
Gestas is a slightly chubby bald man with the careful little mustache and anachronistic contemporary eyeglasses; he is the stereotypical middle class banker/salesman. However, here, wearing only a sloppy loin cloth his body is one of a hairy animal and his feet are paws.
Dismas is a chinless man, with a more fully human male body, gaunt, weaing a neat loin cloth and sandals. He shows no repentance, or real suffering, but scowls darkly at the viewer in accusation for his predicament.
Jesus is reminiscent of some of Condo's portraits of women, with lushly seductive bodies but raging, carnal faces. While the other two paintings have unobstructed bare chests, Condo's Jesus has an explosion of colorful dots. Like confetti, this obscures the chest, but look beneath and there is the shadow from a breast. Certainly the long hair, arms and legs are feminine, while the feet are simple outlines in the shape of a woman's pointy toed shoe. Is this a woman? Condo obscures the answer because what is important is the question.
Move into the next room to find a single large painting of a single figure: Condo's God.
This character stands in strong but pastel colored contrast to the three dark crucified characters with their rampant, wild egos. This character's expression is calm, perhaps a bit worried or anxious as he stares up into the heavens waiting for guidance. Condo's God is not the Almighty but a seeker himself. He lifts his hands outward; palms not up to receive from the heavens but outward as if ready to embrace the viewer in a hug.
Condo's God is attired in the classic style of dress was the fashion in ancient times for Biblical heroes from both testaments. It was last seen as a fashion statement in the Western World worn by hippies. Slung over a shoulder and around his chest is a cloth bag, although what be in it, or why God would need to carry anything is left fully to the imagination. Unlike Biblical heroes, who we can assume had full beards, much like the extreme orthodox and Hassidic Jews of today, this character has a walrus style mustache, but no beard. We cannot see his feet, but he is standing on bubble-like round rocks. The patterns of the rocks continue throughout the background to become a pastel sunrise (or sunset) directly behind the figure, almost mimicking an aura.
Oil on canvas
92 X 78 inches
(233.68 X 198.12 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.
March 6, 2008