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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Pipilotti Rist and George Condo, Hayward Gallery

The Hayward Gallery doesn't conform, and this winter presents a programme of weird and wacky artists on their grey brutalist walls: George Condo and Pipilotti Rist running in tandem in the Southbank venue.

You enter the Pipilotti first... a collection of works under the title 'Eyeball Massage'. It is a sensory playpen, ethereal video installations and unconventional constructions to experience. Pipilotti invites the viewer to freely engage and immerse him or herself in her otherworldly creations - I found some of these pieces to be very disorientating. The exhibition brings together thirty works from the mid 1980s to the present day, including a vast new installation created especially for the Hayward. Pipilotti is interested in both magnified and micro worlds, and my favourite works were the miniature ones, tiny video screens arranged in handbags or shells, or even in the floor - they are captivating.

George Condo presents an equally eccentric collection of works; his retrospective is appropriately titled, ‘Mental States’. Condo hails from New York and is considered to be one of the most original and provocative painters of his generation. This exhibition includes work from the last three decades and is split into thematic sections: Portraiture, Abstract-Figuration and Mania and Melancholy.

It is an angry collection, Condo seems to have a lot of deep rooted, seething frustration and angst that he lets loose through his creations. I found the portraiture to be quite disconcerting, a strange mix of humour and disgust, a few of the cartoon like characters even made me laugh out loud. Some images reminded me of the crazy Dr Seuss books I read as a child, exaggerated bizarre characters that really stick in your mind, in particular I will retain ‘Red Antipodular Portrait’ and ‘The Butler’.

My favourite pieces were the Picasso inspired linear abstract paintings. Expansive canvases with confused but beautiful mind maps of shape, colour and figurative hints like the fascinating Fallen Butler of 2009. They are works created in the 1980s when Condo became preoccupied with depicting non-representational forms tightly packed and overlapped, the artist called them ‘drawing paintings’ because although they are on canvas they are drawn in charcoal, pastel and acrylic paint, rather than the more traditional oil paint.

Mania and Melancholy features the most grotesque of the lot, yet very intriguing to observe. Aggressive and upsetting paintings that ‘reflect the madness of everyday life’, apparently! The exaggerated features and frenzy evoked in these paintings is not dissimilar to traits found in Outsider Art.

I left the Hayward Gallery feeling dazed and bewildered by the two very different artists minds I had entered. Both are intensely imaginative individuals and I felt privileged to be welcomed into their worlds.

Pipilotti Rist and George Condo continue until 8 January, 2011.

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