George Condo at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

The current exhibition of George Condo’s recent artwork lies on the ground level of Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Housed in Le Corbusier’s only North American building, the work of this internationally renowned artist befits the postmodern space.

The exhibit, which opened Wednesday, October 15th, consists of five oil paintings and twenty-two preliminary sketches that give insight to the finished work. While the sketches seem to have a Bill Plympton or Ralph Steadman quality to them, the finished work comes from a vocabulary that is solely George Condo. And while many of Condo’s previous works deal directly with classical and Cubist references, this exhibit appears to relate exclusively to surrealism.

This painted world on Condo’s canvasses, wherein characters named “The Executive,” “The Policeman,” and “The Insane Cardinal” all exist, is a nondescript place where the foundations have yet to be solidified. Backgrounds are painted in muted values with virtually no horizon line to separate the ground from the sky, and it seems that Condo has left them relatively undeveloped to suggest a universality that is inclusive to our own world. This metaphor is furthered as most of the paintings hang on the wall without frames. This lack of separation between fine art space and wall space is synonymous with Piet Mondrian’s ideas of art extending beyond the canvas into the physical world.

Not unlike the undeveloped backgrounds, the broadly categorized titles and imagery are vague enough to suggest an everyman archetype, which also extends into the physical world and more specifically mirrors the art-going public. If you were to peruse the paintings quickly, you would see characters with flasks/glasses for hands and confrontational stares. If you were to then view the art-going audience at the opening night reception, you would see characters with glasses in hand and confrontational stares looking right back into the eyes of the painted figures. On closer inspection of the artwork, you would see some as puppets, or being baited by the old “carrot-tied-to-a-string” trick. One cannot help but equate the carrot-tied-to-a-string to the standard cheese at an art opening baiting the public to come. The beauty of surrealism lies in its interpretative value, but perhaps Condo is working in a Duchamp-ian aesthetic that pokes fun at the very bourgeois audience that goes to see the art. Then again, perhaps not, but if the art is strong enough to be the catalyst for such interpretations, then it has been effective.

The artwork itself is a pleasing aesthetic experience; however, what makes the exhibit exceptional is the interplay between Condo’s content, the “fine-art-going public,” and the relative conceptual interpretations. The exhibit runs through November 16th and is worth the time of any self-reflective art appreciator.

While George Condo’s works may not all be within the realm of surrealism, the exhibition at Harvard’s Carpenter Center and the attending audience pose for a surrealistic and yet hauntingly reflective experience.