George Condo at the Hayward Gallery. By Andrew Graham-Dixon.
What does George Condo think he is playing at? Hard to say, on the evidence of the Hayward Gallerys survey of his last forty years of activity. The show presents an ever-changing fairground gallery of enigmatic grotesques ranging from a pin-headed, goggle-eyed, shamefaced cartoon image of Jesus (2002), to a composite series of portraits of Queen Elizabeth II in which Her Royal Highness is presented as variously feral, buffoonish, rapacious, anodyne-beautiful and a Frankenstein assemblage of disjointedly reassembled body parts. God save anyone who looks like her. In fact, most people in Condos paintings do look pretty much like her, given a turn or two in his shape-shifting liquidiser of distortive styles.
Uncle Joe, one of a recent cast of characters/caricatures created in 2005 and here assembled under the rubric of Manic Society, is exemplary of the types that throng his seethingly dyspeptic world of snarling, disaffected, resolutely alienated individuals. There he sprawls, most definitely no ones favourite uncle, on a patch of what might be parkland: a half-naked, fag-wielding onanist, clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and balancing a glass of the same intoxicating liquid on his upturned right leg, all while blowing bubbles from the end of his stubbily erect and heavily thatched phallus.
Born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1957, Condo began his career in New York in the 1980s. It was the era of Keith Harings funky graphic doodlings and Jean-Michel Basquiats assertive graffiti paintings, of Julian Schnabels smashed-plate pastiches of Cubist portraiture a time of anything goes, to which Condos magpie eclecticism and nervously ironic sensibility were well adapted. If he can be credited with adding one particular new ingredient to the stew that was Postmodern American painting in the 1980s and 1990s, it...