Calvin Tomkins on George Condo

screengrab from new museum site

Last week’s issue of New Yorker featured a profile on painter George Condo by Calvin Tomkins. I look forward to every profile Tomkins writes on artists including Koons and Currin but hate who he writes about. More often than not they’re big profile hooty toot artists that, for me, are in the periphery of my art-consumptive habits. A few years back I read Lives of the Artists, a collection of said artist profiles, for its art historical credentials but I’m growing to disfavor this leaning towards prominent male artists. Please do correct me and point me towards any essays he’s written on prolific women artists, I’d be relieved and shut myself up eternally.

Meanwhile this essay, which you unfortunately can’t read unless a subscriber, points out trivial moments and cringeworthy details in Condo’s practice and quotes statements that were irrelevant, trifle, and left me a bit dumbfounded. I didn’t care to take Condo seriously before, and hoped that the essay would change that, but it had the opposite affect.

Some useless details discovered from the essay:

– “In a shopping spree last fall, they replaced most of what Condo called the “fake French furniture” in their living and dining rooms with the real thing: a Louis XVI dining table and six Regency chairs, a George Jacob settee, and several exquisite marquetry pieces signed and stamped by the 18th century masters Roger Van der Cruse and Pierre Migeon, including a commode made originally (by Migeon) for Madame de Pompadour’s bedroom.”

– “Warhol stood behind him for a while, and then asked, in his soft voice, “Do you just go up to a painting and do whatever you like?” Condo said he guessed so. Warhol said, “Gee, I could never do that.”

– “According to Condo, he [Kanye West] also said that he was looking for “something that will be banned.”

– “Graffiti artists spray-painted their names on walls and subway trains; Condo emblazoned his in Old Master landscapes.”

– “He took the Concorde on trips to and from New York, and, guided by Bischofberger, aquired a taste for very expensive wines.”

– “To call attention to the new work, he invented a term to describe it: “Artificial Realism,” defined as “the realistic representation of that which is artificial.””

– “Pictures by Currin and other painters of his generation sometimes sell for a lot more than Condo’s do, and this is annoying to Condo. Now and then, he feels that others get credit for things he id first, but he also knows that having his work admired b younger artists has made critics and collectors look at it with renewed interest.”

– When Condo visits his mother, he usually stops off, in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes (Condo let his driver’s license lapse in 1978 and never renewed it), to play the high-stakes slot machines at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, in Connecticut…Losing never bothers him, he told me, because “I only count what I win.”


Some quotes of non-interest from Condo:

– “I’ve never had any trouble selling work.”

– re: a character in his paintings, Rodrigo, is “a kind of lowlife, the one who parks your car…the piano player at a wedding, doing the worst song you’ve heard.”

– “What happens now, is I sit down.”

– “This was the height of the punk-rock thing, with the Ramone and the Sex Pistols and Patti Smith. I thought it was really great, a cross between John Cage and performance art.”

– “People were dying of AIDS, And besides, in the Canary Islands I’d really liked the feeling of being away from the crowd.”

– “When I finished paying back the gallery, I still had more money left over than I’ve ever had in my hands at one time- and Anna and I spent the entire amount in two months! I don’t know how. We were just traveling, and staying in hotels, and buying stuff.”


Let’s just say, this is a roll-of-the-eyes tribute to George Condo. After reading this I can’t help but picture Condo as a sheltered spoiled brat prone to tantrums and unhealthy disturbing fantasies produced from a perpetual state of infancy. This profile I think really does disservice to his biography and his artistic practice and that’s just too bad. It won’t prevent me from wanting to see the show at New Museum though, let’s see if this mid-career retrospective exceeds beyond that of a faulty creator.

1 Comment

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One response to “Calvin Tomkins on George Condo

  1. i like the QUOTATIONS! of non-interest and anyone who is for that matter full of themselves…

    “…a sheltered spoiled brat prone to tantrums and unhealthy disturbing fantasies produced from a perpetual state of infancy.” – hehehehe

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