On ViewNouveau Musée National De Monaco
March 31 – October 1, 2023
For the length of his career, George Condo (b. 1957) has examined the almost-human. The New Hampshire-born artist’s solo exhibition Humanoids—on view from March 31 through October 1, 2023 at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM)—abstracts and subsequently humanizes the world around us. Yet this begs the question: what exactly is a humanoid? The artist states that a humanoid is not a “science fiction monster,” but a being whose emotions lie at the surface of the tangible self. These figurative subjects may appear human from a distance, yet up close their features are skewed or twisted: one might see a sphere of a cherry-red nose, an elongated neck that resembles a casing-wrapped sausage, or multiple sets of razor-sharp teeth—as shown in The Butcher’s Wife (1997), for example. Condo offers his unique take on Cubism, leveraging a psychological approach while playing with dimension and simultaneously capturing the human psyche. The artist pays homage to the acclaimed critic Félix Fénéon, who, unimpressed by Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), encouraged Pablo Picasso to focus on caricatures. Condo honors this same Cubist deformation, though he makes it entirely his own.
Curated by French art historian Didier Ottinger, Humanoids traces Condo’s decades-long body of work—featuring ethereal near-human subjects ranging from “space beings” to Bugs Bunny. The works hone in on Condo’s creative process, all through the lens of what it means to craft a humanoid. Ottinger refers to the artist’s work as “schizo-frenzied,” comparing Condo’s output to that of an “Energizer bunny whose batteries had run low.” Again citing Picasso, Ottinger reveals that by the mid-1970s, Condo was well-situated to navigate the looming changes of modernist art. The artist, in fact, worked for Andy Warhol at the time, mass-printing images, and thus he found inspiration in postmodernism. Condo, years later, would state that he was searching for “a statement that would stand up against Andy Warhol’s soup cans” at the time; his objective was not to oppose Warhol, but to complement his paintings. The artist began to frequent the world’s most celebrated museums, fine-tuning his early work in a manner that resembled a reaction to Old Master painting. Condo, of course, ties this visual aggression to the onset of the “terrible schizophrenia” he experienced in early adulthood. For decades now, Condo has made a point of showcasing his schizophrenia in his art. He defines the condition as a conflict in his attachment to classical painting—and as the legacy of modernity. In this fashion, Condo expertly depicts the fools of the modern world, or the intricacies of la comédie humaine.
Fractured portraiture, a human revolt—the six parts that comprise Humanoids (Humanoid Abstractions, Fractured Figures, Fake old masters, Imaginary Portraits, Female portraits, and Antipodal Beings) represent an artistic revolt from which the viewer cannot look away. Condo claims to have started painting humanoids, or emotional expressions of semi-human figures, because he no longer found human beings visually interesting. Consider some of the works featured in the exhibition. Inspired by Condo’s renowned Constellation of Voices (2019–20), installed outside New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Constellation II (2022) is a smaller, slightly altered version of the famed sculpture: a gold head fusing human and alien parts, named in a similar format to the Apollo space missions. The golden head resembles a cyborg, its features distorted yet almost human in their appearance; one eye is larger than the other, and the figure’s lips are off-center, while the head itself is distinctly human. This medley of voices blends motion and feeling—showcasing a person that is seemingly melting while also expanding, or perhaps surviving the chaos of the modern world. Condo’s painting The Smiling Sea Captain (2006) captures a similar dichotomy. The large-scale oil painting illustrates what Condo refers to as a metaphysical construction of a human. The subject in the work resembles a construction site; he is built from multiple, varied parts, and the viewer will note a crazed, over-eager look in his eyes. This man—the “smiling sea captain”—is grinning ear to ear, yet he is dying; the subject has a spear going through a literal target on his chest, and from this spear hangs a carrot, in a delicate play on the expression “dangling a carrot.” In similar fashion, The Mad Scientist and his Wife (2006) further celebrates the notion of a humanoid. A dark sky envelops a man in a lab coat, one eye significantly larger than the other, as his nude wife lies sprawling on lush, green grass. Her features are so distorted they appear monstrous, yet the mad scientist’s wife seems relaxed; her body is open and at ease while her husband looks at—or perhaps through—her. He is thinking, maddened, and she is feeling; together, they are whole. In these works, Condo—prolific painter and creator of the so-called humanoid—explores the ludicrous and the mentally destabilized: the metaphors for humanity.