Portraits injected with a contemporary twist

Although the diversity in contemporary art makes it hard to talk about particular trends, one can perhaps speak of a general return to painting – not just abstract but figurative painting as well – recently taking place in the art world. The growing number of paintings shown in contemporary art fairs internationally is a safe indication of this return and is a likely signal of an expanding art market in which the demand for paintings has also increased. Seen against this background, the work of the acclaimed American, New York-based artist George Condo – an artist who gradually rose to fame during the 1980s at a time when figurative painting had gained currency – seems all the more relevant. This is not just because Condo is a figurative painter but because he has steadily concentrated on a genre that traditionally is associated with painting: that of portraiture. A group of his paintings on view at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery (the first presentation of his work in Greece) show Condo’s distinctive and original take on a traditional genre yet through a traditional medium. Filled with psychological depth, but with social resonance as well, Condo’s images enmesh individuality with the collective and combine fiction with reality. They place what we are, human personality and physiognomy, in a much larger context that involves history, our collective unconscious and social conventions, as well as the history of art. Interestingly, the characters that Condo paints are only partly human. His «imaginary characters,» as they are often referred to, are sometimes part human, part machine, or look like dummies, with egg-shaped heads whose human characteristics are replaced by attributes pointing to a character’s social role. Containing a dada or surrealist subtext (one is reminded of Picabia’s machine-like portraits) these images of «humanoids» or «antipodal beings,» as Condo sometimes calls his hybrid creatures, compound humor and horror, wit and introspection, absurdity and amusement together with melancholy and alienation. As with Condo’s earlier paintings, this uncanny blend also comes through in Condo’s paintings presented at the Eleni Koroneou show. Stylistically however, the works presented here seem more removed from the aesthetics of comics or caricature that seemed to have streaked into some of Condo’s former works. The artist’s hybrid, postmodern-like style of mixing aspects of pop art, surrealism or cartoons together is still recognizable but somehow these images seem more esoteric than the artist’s former works. The contrasting format of the works included in the exhibition is another of its interesting aspect. The paintings are either very small (26 x 21 cm) or quite large, each offering a distinct but equally engaging effect. Of the larger paintings, «Interspersion,» which shows a deformed figure against a Magritte-like sky, is one of the best illustrations of Condo’s strange, slightly ominous world. In Condo’s work, titles are very important for they often refer to archetypal figures and characters that are tied to the collective unconscious. An example in the Koroneou exhibition is «The Philosopher,» in which a Cyclops-like being subtly emerges out of an aubergine-colored surface. The image contains warmth and compassion yet it also resonates with sarcasm and a sense of playfulness. George Condo sees his characters with affection yet cannot help but somehow undermine them. Distanced from, yet also involved, in the world they depict, Condo’s paintings offer a probing and unrelenting view into the contradictions that are all part of contemporary life. Eleni Koroneou (5-7 Mitsaion, 210.924.4271), by appointment only.