Broad Strokes: George Condo

November 9, 20214 min read
Broad Strokes: George Condo
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If you travel in art world circles, it’s impossible to miss George Condo — the evocative artist who ran in the same circles as Warhol and Haring and has been responsible for some of the most iconic visuals in modern popular culture. Whether you’re a collector, longtime fan of the artist, or hadn’t heard of him before this paragraph — here’s a quick primer on this blue-chip artist.

1. He was born in NH, joined a band, and became friends with Basquiat

Born in Concord, New Hampshire in 1957, Condo studied Music Theory at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, but quickly determined that it was “too formal and rigid for him”. In need of an art form that offered more creative freedom, Condo dove into visual art. At 23, Condo was offered his dream job working for Andy Warhol. He worked at Warhol’s New York City studio, The Factory, for nine months, and describes the experience as “incredibly intense.” The first public exhibitions of Condo’s work took place at Pat Hearn Gallery in the East Village in the 1980s. In his younger days, Condo was close friends with Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, among other prominent New York-based painters. Curator Klaus Ottmann considers Condo and these fellow artists  to be “instrumental in the revival of figuration in American art.” 

Condo’s early work played an important role in the rise of Neo-Expressionism, a diverse art style that dominated the art market in the United States and Europe in the early and mid-1980s. He had his first solo European exhibition at Monika Sprüth Gallery in 1984, during which time he debuted the well-known painting , The Cloudmaker. This work illustrates a play on the Hollywood sign that spells out the artist’s surname.  Although he has been a major player on the art scene for several decades now, some experts believe his most coveted works are those created in the last decade.

2. He has sold 567 paintings for $223.2M at auction since 2006, with an average sales price of $307k.

Condo is a 63-year old blue chip artist most well-known for his use of aggressive imagery within portraits. Since 2006, 567 of Condo’s paintings have traded for an average price of $307k, increasing to an average price of $693k over the last 4 years. The following dashboard — compiled and built out by the Athena Art Finance Team — shows how his paintings have recently experienced very positive growth.

The Hammer Ratio is the measurement of an artwork’s performance against its low auction estimate published ahead of the sales. This metric illustrates that Condo has consistently outperformed expectations, hammering above pre-sale low estimates by 1.6x on average. Athena’s above analysis provides additional context for the historical performance of Condo’s artworks and speaks to overall demand for his work.

Action market dashboard

3. He created the cover art for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

In 2010, American rapper and producer Kanye West commissioned Condo to create the cover art for West’s album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Condo listened to the album and then created a series of paintings to be used as interchangeable covers to accompany the album. A ballerina in a black tutu raising a glass of red wine and a nightmarish nutcracker, are two such covers, but the main cover stirred up controversy. The image showed a nude Kanye being straddled by an also nude winged female creature, that is, in Condo’s words, “a kind of fragment, between a sphinx, a phoenix, and a haunting ghost, a harpy.” The artwork was deemed inappropriate for children so in order to sell the album, the art was pixelated. Rumor has it that Kanye specifically requested that Condo create art obscene enough for the cover to be banned. Neither man would complain about the results, as Condo’s work became that much more famous and Kanye’s album sales reached 500,000 copies in the first week. 

4. His painting Force Field, achieved the artist’s record price at auction. 

Condo’s record price at auction was achieved when the monumental sized painting, Force Field, 2010, hammered for $5.8M at Christie’s Hong Kong on July 7, 2020 (a total of $6.9M, including the buyer’s premium).

5. Condo is still a working artist.

Condo currently lives and works primarily out of his apartment in the Upper East Side of New York City and his studio in the Hamptons. He refers to his most recent works as “drawing paintings,” because, in his words, “there is no real difference between them, they can exist in one happy continuum”. His work appears in the permanent collections of MoMA in New York, the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles andTate Gallery in London, among many others. A large retrospective exhibition of Condo’s work is currently on view in China at  Shanghai’s Long Museum. 

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