Sale: 545 / Evening Sale, Dec. 08. 2023 in Munich Lot 24

George Condo
The Walrus, 2005.
Bronze with golden patina
€ 120,000 - 180,000

$ 127,200 - 190,800

The Walrus. 2005.
Bronze with golden patina.
Base with stamped name, date and the number. One of 4 copies and 1 artist proof. 66 x 33 x 60 cm (25.9 x 12.9 x 23.6 in).

• Captivating duality of fear and joy, euphoria and hysteria.
• "The Walrus" is a man/animal hybrid that changes our viewing habits.
• George Condo's "psychological Cubism" provides insight into his figures' mental state.
• In 2019, the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York erected a larger-than-life sculpture by the artist

PROVENANCE: George Condo Studio, New York.
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.
Private collection USA.
Gary Tatintsian Gallery.

EXHIBITION: New Sculptures, Skarstedt Gallery, New York, May 5 - June 10, 2005 (different copy).
George Condo: Existential Portraits, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York, May 5 - June 3, 2006.

LITERATURE: Holzwarth Publications, Augustine Luhring (ed.), George Condo. Existential Portraits, 2006, pp. 42f.
Gary Tatintsian Gallery (ed.), Artificial Realism, Moscow 2008, pp. 98f.

Called up: December 8, 2023 - ca. 17.46 h +/- 20 min.

In early 2005, George Condo made a series of sculptures at his New York studio over the course of four weeks. The artist initially developed the basic forms of these works from clay and. They were cast in bronze and patinated at a later point, so that the process of creation becomes well visible: the application of the malleable clay with the indentations from the fingers, the quick manner in which the material was formed. “The Walrus” was also among these works, a strange kind of double or even triple figure. The main character is a bald man with big ears, two different eyes and a demonic toothless grin. There is a carrot in one of his ears, not a rare but still irritating accessory in Condo's imagery. A body or second neck grows from the base of the figure in front of the large main head, with another suggested face with small eyes and a wide open mouth. An animal according to the title, a figure with human features according to the execution, the sculpture consciously evades purely rational understanding and at the same time captivates the observer with its duality between fear and pleasure, between euphoria and hysteria.

At this point similar figures had already emerged in George Condo’s paintings and drawings. The artist, born in New Hampshire in 1957, found his very own style in the vibrant art scene around Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. For a decade from 1985 to 1995 he left the American art world for Europe. Living in Paris, he absorbed new impressions. The experience gained during this time and the contact with European art, shaped his signature style, which can be summarized as a kind of synthesis of art historical references and contemporary aesthetics. Art historical references can also be seen in “The Walrus”. Willem de Kooning, for example, made similar sculptures out of clay in the early 1970s that he would also cast in bronze subsequently. With the flexible and supple material, he also succeeded in transferring his expressive painting style into three-dimensionality (see fig. Willem de Kooning, Head III, 1973). Contrary to Willem de Kooning's sculptures, however, George Condo's works look as if they had come out of a turn-of-the-century comic. At the same time, owing to their different facial expressions, they evoke memories of Picasso's cubist sculptures, to which George Condo repeatedly refers. Picasso attempted to combine different perspectives of the same motif in one representation as early as at the beginning of the 20th century.

However, when approaching Condo from a less art-historical angle as an own independent artistic personality, the reduction to a number of role models does not do justice to his work. Because he neither copies other people's styles nor adopts their intentions. Rather, he allows the essence of their approaches to flow into his works and uses them to develop an extremely contemporary visual language that is also finds inspiration in comics and media. In interviews, he often describes his style as “Psychological Cubism” with which he does not try to depict the appearance of a character, but to gives an insight into their mental state. Unlike the Cubists, he does not depict different perspectives of the visible world, but rather makes the conflicting, inner world and emotions of humanity visible. Fear, joy and fright can be identified in “The Walrus”, creating fear and even mild horror and at the same time demonic joy at the absurdity of the figure with a carrot in its ear. With his sculptures, George Condo gilds our deepest emotions, our irrational actions and spiritual abysses, at the same time he takes them to a point of absurdity through a humorous, grotesque exaggeration. [AR]

George Condo - "Artificial Realism"
The development of sculpture in the 20th century, modern sculpture and object art, owes a great deal of decisive impulse to the contributions of painters. Draftsmen and painters such as Daumier and Gauguin had already added completely new variations to "Realism" in their extraordinary sculptures by pushing them to the grotesque as early as in the 19th century. With Max Ernst, Joan Miró and above all Picasso, the repertoire of possibilities, the vast field of what sculpture can be, was expanded - including the use of sand molds that are frogs and toy cars that pass for baboon heads. The "material" from which an object is composed takes on completely new tasks. Transformation processes are set in motion, changeable elements are brought into play in a way that they always show something completely different than their "origin" and purpose. In the early 1980s, artists had once again reassured themselves of so-called "original methods"; the direct sculptural intervention soon became a tactic of self-deception, which in painting was still relatively easy to apostrophize as "bad painting". The direct use of malleable materials, whether clay, plaster, plasticine or salt paste, sought new objectives in sculpting: with a deliberately "raw", "primitivist" gesture as a direct and simple means of creation, and, in purposeful combination, extended by found objects taken from the real world.

Collage, assemblage and serial production are just some of the artificially intelligent methods of Modernism. The astonishment that arises from the formal solution is owed to unforeseen combinations. The work of art as a puzzle picture, which, in its visibility, cannot be resolved at only one level of meaning, remains an enduring fascination. With playful ease, George Condo also occasionally resorts to three-dimensional sculptures as a medium for occurrences. His characters abandon their confinement to the two-dimensionality of the picture and unquestionably become character heads - proof of their personality. The multitude of allusions, the references and cross-references to "high and low" are, as is usually the case with Condo, downbeat and understated. The "shiny surface" hides the traces of its "handmade" surfaces with its meaningful origins in Christian art of the High Middle Ages, whereby a freely shaped carrot vividly "stuck" in the ear and – lets think of a voodoo figurine - simultaneously entangles it in pagan-apostrophized practice. A methodical short-circuiting of levels of meaning that Condo is not prepared to resolve - "Artificial Realism".

With his "Hybrid Paintings", Condo had already abandoned the formative premises of his generation in the 1980s and had consistently begun to reassess the open system of "art comes from art", both for North America and Europe, where he had lived many years. The object as theme of his paintings already appears here as a subject with great implicitness. A sculpture like "The Walrus" cannot and will not be interpreted as a tasteful imitation of any kind of "reality" - it is reality.

In May 2005, "The Walrus" made its first appearance in New York at Per Skarstedt's gallery. It was part of a group of ten massive "larger-than-life" objects that Condo introduced as the prelude to the upcoming series of his "Existential Portraits". The fact that the "highly polished, patinated bronze" executed as portrait bust has a "second face" is a peculiarity that can hardly be overlooked at first glance. The show-stopper, however, lies in its spontaneous and niftily calculated execution. The minute we decide to see a depiction of a scream from an open mouth, recalling Munch's famous painting or chose one of Francis Bacon's "Popes", Condo occupies the memory gap with a third picture: in the early 1960s, Jasper Johns apparently "bit into the picture", in order to find a form with a movement of the hand, an explicit gesture, in which the finger traces make the bite into the surface of the canvas plausible as an artwork. The seemingly familiar gesture is as strange as it is disturbing. - Is this still the finger in the wound or already the hand in the famous "Bocca delle Veritá"?

With his 2005 portrait of a monster, Condo went pushed the hybridization two steps further. Never at a loss for the right allusions, he uses the title "The Walrus" to gives us a reference to the eight-minute piece with which John Lennon promised a deliberately ironic performance of the literarily ambitious interpretation of song lyrics in 1967. Lennon was soon - and with the support of the Plastic-Ono-Band - concerned with leaving the conventions of the former "Fab Four" from Liverpool behind him, as the world of "wildly" behaving and fainting fans had long since become a cliché of his own apathy.
In New York after 9/11, especially in the bel étage of a typical Upper Manhattan townhouse converted into a sculptor's studio, every object made from clay and found objects was an expression of a trusted method on uncertain terrain. The result were portraits of a kind that revealed themselves to be changeful beings even at the moment of their appearance. "The Walrus" is a human animal that cannot get rid of its never-ending question of belonging, that exposes itself before our eyes, takes its "otherness" for granted and emphasizes that it will never be "part of us", let alone an "accepted" part of our form of existence. This is also emphasized by the ever-visible "second face", another head without a body, which, in front view, appears to be part of the beard, while it actually grows out of the rear figure like a stalagmite in side view. Connected and unconnected, the double identity addresses the theme of being thrown into a society that only values its favorite minorities as long as they are useful, like a mask worn whenever suitable. The "concrete object dimension" of contemporary art, in all its ruthlessness, is developed in its persuasive power precisely because it mercilessly exposes our idea of "the other" as our own projection of ourselves in the face of our counterpart.

However bizarre the presence of "The Walrus" is, its display of emotion seems as familiar as it is plausible. The characters of every woman, every man, every creature are nothing more than "burnt-out superheroes, ghosts of themselves". Here too, as in many of his celebrated canvases, Condo shows himself as a moralist, and very much in line with master thinkers such as Montaigne, Voltaire or Kondiaronk. In his "Artificial Realism", the persuasive power of "The Walrus" reduces even the last criteria of formal aesthetic justification of ideas to absurdity. Condo continues to play without the desire for a frivolous or even conciliatory compromise. He changes our viewing habits, involves expanding images in a constantly open discussion, expands tradition and the present through his experimental transfer process and thus formulates - seemingly in passing - a merciless rejection of "politically" irrelevant art.

Ralph Rugoff: "Do you see these characters as representing orphaned or dislocated belief systems?"

George Condo: "I see them as fractions of humanity battling extinction."
Axel Heil

Buyer's premium, taxation and resale right compensation for George Condo "The Walrus"
This lot can only be purchased subject to regular taxation, artist‘s resale right compensation is due.

Regular taxation:
Hammer price up to 800,000 €: herefrom 27 % premium.
The share of the hammer price exceeding 800,000 € is subject to a premium of 21% and is added to the premium of the share of the hammer price up to 800,000 €.
The share of the hammer price exceeding 4,000,000 € is subject to a premium of 15% and is added to the premium of the share of the hammer price up to 4,000,000 €.
The statutory VAT of currently 19 % is levied to the sum of hammer price and premium. As an exception, the reduced VAT of 7 % is added for printed books.

Calculation of artist‘s resale right compensation:
For works by living artists, or by artists who died less than 70 years ago, a artist‘s resale right compensation is levied in accordance with Section 26 UrhG:
4 % of hammer price from 400.00 euros up to 50,000 euros,
another 3 % of the hammer price from 50,000.01 to 200,000 euros,
another 1 % for the part of the sales proceeds from 200,000.01 to 350,000 euros,
another 0.5 % for the part of the sale proceeds from 350,000.01 to 500,000 euros and
another 0.25 % of the hammer price over 500,000 euros.
The maximum total of the resale right fee is EUR 12,500.

The artist‘s resale right compensation is VAT-exempt.