(61, Rue Grenelle, Paris)
17 April - 17 August 2009
THE FEMALE BODY, Or A CAGE FOR EVERY BEAST
Review by Diego Costa
There is more to
love about George Condo's art other than his contempt for convention and unabashed
repetitiveness -- which reminds us of the one we are most oblivious to, the
repetitiveness of the norm. Condo's exhibit at the Musée Maillol in Paris,
La Civilisation Perdu, creates an unexpected anthropomorphic link between
1980s New York art (Basquiat, Haring) and ancient philosophy (Epicurus, Diogenes).
If Condo's humans are always already not-quite human, they also recall the Greeks'
animal metaphors of unapologetic pleasure and libertinage.
If the libertine
hates the bee for its blind pragmatism ("organicism" as Michel Onfray
calls it) and the elephant for its pathological faithfulness, those with a penchant
for hedonism find in the hyena and the pig their most appropriate metaphor.
Condo's bestial creatures function as cover-ups for the "depravity"
of the pig and the hyena, whose unleashed sexuality, like the repressed, always
returns. In a kind of purposeful pentimento, Condo allows for the picture beneath
the picture (its unconscious?) to rebound on the body of the being depicted.
He achieves this often in the shape of an overgrown Adam's apple, or a phallic
something protruding from the throat.
It's true that
the concept of the pentimento normally involves the reappearance of the painter's
initial sketches that were ultimately covered by her final strokes. But Condo
makes use of a similar process, rendering the pentimento's "image that
returns" the pivotal element of his paintings, calculating the hidden image
and, therefore, deforming it. Alberto Giacometti committed similar mindful intrusion
by making the sculpture's support a central part of the sculpture itself, confounding
diagesis with non-diagesis.
In Condo's appropriation
of the "what is not supposed to be seen" (the pentimento) as precisely
that which is to be seen, his innovation doesn't just inhabit the domain of
painting tout court. It echoes the unwelcome, symbiotic and almost causal rapport
between beast and human. For Condo's beasts are always engaged in some sort
of sexual activity, often an orgiastic one, and completely devoid of conventional
beauty. They are hairy, they bear ghastly features, their jaws are lopsided
and their gaze is soulless. But mostly, they are alone. Despite their state
of perpetual intercourse, theirs is a masturbatory existence.
The Orgy (2004), one isn't quite sure what limbs are whose. But one is
also not sure who is who, for all the depicted creatures look the same. Borrowing
from Luce Irigaray's playbook, Condo's beasts hint at a sexual drive that ignores
the need for authenticity in the consumed object, i.e. women. Little does it
matter who they are -- if it's Jane or Mary or Susan -- or what particularities
their limbs hold if from up close they are all inconveniently hairy and excessively
porous. Beasts, really. Always already aggressive but always already caged.