A way to share and manage lots.
Sadie Coles HQ, London
Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
London, Sadie Coles HQ, John Currin, September 6–October 4, 2003
E. Williams, "John Currin,"Contemporary magazine, issue 57, 2003, pp. 68-69 (illustrated)
A. Brusciati and A. Galasso, eds., Painting Codes, Monfalcone, Italy: Galleria Comunale d'Arte Contemporanea Monfalcone, 2006, p. 44 (illustrated)
N. Bryson, A. M. Gingeras, D. Eggers, John Currin, Gagosian Gallery, New York: Rizzoli, 2006, pp. 314, 315 and 380 (illustrated)
Demonstrating a virtuosic finesse that belies its laborious production process, Amanda flaunts through its facture and subject matter the acquired strengths, natural talent and wry intellect that have made American painter John Currin one of the most illustrious and exalted painters of his generation.
Although the outcome of masterly technique, Amanda is more than an exercise in painterly expertise. If anything, the tenderly worked surface of the painting—its luxurious materiality—functions as a gateway into the sensuality that the work seeks to cultivate and exudes. The painting appeals to the sense of touch; the shaggy carpet emphasizes the smoothness of the woman’s soft flesh, while the lace rimming the satin cushion finds its match in the delicate curls and waves of Amanda’s locks. These epicurean plays with texture, along with the pose and elated expression of the woman, are clear citations of the 19th century masterpiece Woman with a Parrot created by the French avant-garde painter Gustave Courbet, an artist Currin admires unabashedly. Through this connection, Currin seems to stress the long-lasting painting tradition with which he aligns himself.
Although keen on making veiled allusions to the great masters of the past, whether from the late Renaissance or 19th century, Currin also finds inspiration in the more lowbrow visual production of contemporary culture, ads from women’s magazines or pornography, which often proves far more scandalous to modern audiences than Courbet’s once shocking nude. Regarding pornography and contemporary culture’s overall “sexualization” of images, Currin explains, “I’m critical of it but also am a victim of it. I paint the way I do because that’s the landscape I inhabit. Part of it is just reflecting the constant prurient provocation.” He adds, “A larger question is of the battle between photography and the painter. In my paranoid view, photography represents the state or society and painting represents the individual. Porn is the most vicious, dangerous, affective, and militarized agent of photography. It’s the one that gets into your brain—at least it gets into mine….I’m trying to take control of lustful images that have this automatic physiological effect on me and on men, and then redeem them” (Artist in conversation with Catherine Wood, “John Currin,”Kaleidoscope, issue 17 (Winter 2012-13)).
Although Amanda is not nearly as explicit as some of Currin’s unapologetically graphic paintings, it is still possible to identify a whiff of the pornographic in this undeniably titillating painting. Amanda immediately confronts us with a figure that asserts itself as nothing more than a mass of flesh, docile and available. There is no idealization of the female form; no mythical narrative is given as a pretext for the work. Unlike the female nudes of the past, such as Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus (1863) or Alessandro Allori’s Venus and Cupid (1570), Currin’s painting stresses the “realness” of its model both by naming her and by inserting contemporary signifiers, such as her glasses, that enable us to identify her as an imperfect, human woman who lives in our immediate, shared present. The assertion of her individuality is both unnerving and empowering. Though the particularity of Amanda, ruddy and bespectacled, renders her admittedly much more quotidian than mythical, it also allows her the freedom to be glorified in her very everydayness.
Blatantly salacious or not, Currin’s art has relentlessly tested figurative painting’s capacity to take on unorthodox subject matter. His first paintings were exquisitely painted versions of a high school yearbook’s photo-portraits of individual students. Currin also became known for his skillfully distorted Mannerist-like paintings of ordinary women, posing in their banal, everyday clothes. From the beginning and on, then, Currin sought to create an ambiguous and tense rapport between quality—his signature and anachronistic Old Master style of painting—and kitschy, bathetic content. Recoiling from being labeled a satirist, Currin nevertheless revels in the often outré effect and humorous paradoxes produced by his work. Although always pointing to the excesses and vanity of contemporary society, Currin’s paintings remain elusive. Still, the lasting impression of Amanda is one that is celebratory at its core. Rejoicing in his present-day Venus, Currin bestows on us with a portrait that is a filled with beauty, humor and humanity.
New York 11 November 2013 7PM