Visuals Review

George Condo

Yankee Doodle Dandy
Elizabeth M. Mcmillen

In the imagination of the artist George Condo, Yankee Doodle has a green cape, a blue leg of blown-glass and holds a carrot.

In the exhibition that opened with a reception at the Carpenter Center last week, “Yankee Doodle” is joined by four other wall-sized paintings and 22 sketches that lead to the works.

Condo is a seasoned artist and painter in the New York art world, known for imaginative portraits inspired by themes taken from such diverse styles as Surrealism, Pop Art, Baroque and Renaissance art. He comes to Harvard with both an exhibition and a surprise: he will be teaching a course in the Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) department in the spring.

Condo says inspiration for the paintings came from a recent show on Manet and Velasquez at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He was interested in how the two great artists compared to each other, and his own characters, Condo says, are “composite figures from memory.”

Colorful, robust, with sparse yet subtle brushstrokes, the paintings portray characters at once familiar and strange. “The Policeman” wears tiny heels on one foot and has a green sith bottle for a hand. The gold-and-glass headed “Insane Cardinal” has no hair but still has panache, holding a glass of wine in one hand while riding on a tire.

“There’s a faintly cynical kind of smile behind [the paintings],” says VES Head Tutor Paul Stopforth. He remarks on their “undercurrent of sinister cynicism” that seem to mock the narcissism of early 20th century Surrealists.

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The 22 sketches in ink, pencil and watercolor reveal the artist’s working process. Condo says they’re for the students for his intermediate painting course next semester.

“I want the students to learn working from memory,” Condo says. He says that there is much work done already with reliance on external source material. “But one shouldn’t deprive oneself [from the work],” he says. Condo jokingly recommends as prerequisite to his course “heavy background in philosophy and good technical skills” and especially recommends Heidegger’s “Early Greek Thinking.”

A prominent working artist with experience and connections in the field, Condo’s works have been collected by such prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Condo’s work is not limited to painting—in the past he had shown a series of Pop Art inspired silkscreens at Pace Wildenstein, and has an ongoing exhibit at the Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Switzerland of some thirty gilt-bronze portraits of semi-mythical figures.

“I think they’re weird and wonderful,” he says of the works. “Condo is an extraordinarily skillful painter.”

—The exhibition closes Nov. 16.