Julie Curtiss - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “I am interested in nuances, in complexity, in the in-between, in complementarity. I am afraid of the lack of it — I am afraid of extreme polarisation, of a lack of conversation, of a black-and-white vision of the world.”
    — Julie Curtiss


    Julie Curtiss’ sardonic, psychedelic world is a visual feast of Jungian proportions: impossible dreamscapes filled with warped scenes of domesticity and topsy-turvy quotidian life fill her oeuvre; troupes of hairy ghouls sporting bright, talon-like nails coexist with exotic plants and hirsute slabs of meat. As the artist aptly quips, ‘My work is completely psychological.’i Drawing from sources as broad as the Surrealist movement to the Chicago Imagists, while flirting with the art of 19th Century French painters, Curtiss’ works toy with notions of gender roles, sexuality, and the human psyche.



    Installation view of the present work (far right)
    Anton Kern Gallery, New York, 10: Louise Bonnet, Huguette Caland, Julie Curtiss, Jackie Gendel, Heidi Hahn, Loie Hollowell, Jeanne Mammen, Aliza Nisenbaum, Emily Sundblad, Alice Tippit, 12 January – 14 February 2018


    Things Get Pretty Hairy


    French-born, Brooklyn-based artist Julie Curtiss draws from multiple points of art history to create her unique language. Curtiss’ artistic footnotes have oftentimes been traced to the Chicago Imagists — a group of artists whose works referenced Surrealism and Pop Culture — and in particular, to that of Christina Ramberg. Ramberg’s sinisterly sensual oeuvre, likewise, tackled the notions of femininity and gender. Serendipitously, it is Ramberg’s description of her own work that encapsulates Curtiss’ renderings of female existence: ‘Containing, restraining, reforming, hurting, compressing, binding, transforming a lumpy shape into a clean smooth line.’ ii


    If the ‘clean smooth line[s]’ of Curtiss’ oeuvre should refer to her meticulous renditions of hair, then the ‘lumpy shape[s]’ she is taming into place are the fetishisation of female forms. ‘Hair started interesting me ever since I was a teenager…I realised there was this part of us that would remain long after we are gone. Hair itself is amorphous, but you can shape it; it’s inert and alive at once. On women’s heads it’s a sexual asset, but on her body, it’s considered “abject.”’ iii



    Chicago Imagist, Art Green, Disclosing Enclosure, 1968


    The artist considers hair as one of those ‘physical attributes that women everywhere in the world tame and groom, transcending them into tools of communication and seduction’ iv. She has been quoted reclaiming the mythology of Gorgon Medusa, a vain woman with luscious hair cursed instead with a head of snakes: ‘There is something interesting in embracing and overcoming the negative sides of being a woman… I find this version of the dangerous female fascinating, powerful, and rich.’v. Thus, when paired with other accessories typically associated with sex and seduction: nails, clothing, shoes (such as the titular boot), hair takes on a certain mysticism, rebellion, and allure in the artist’s work.



    Shoes, Shoes, Shoes


    Andy Warhol, Untitled (“Tony” Shoe), circa 1956 
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    In Funky Boots, an unzipped, hair-covered boot sags at its opening to reveal a lattice of flesh. The solitary boot rests on a furry, navy carpet, its shape casting a shadow against a grey wall. Portrayed as such, the common boot becomes a mysterious object of desire, or even one which commands envy. The overall effect is not unlike Andy Warhol’s own illustrations of shoes: elevated and to be marvelled at as symbols of class and elegance, and even more revered when covered in gold foil. Such early illustrations sprang out of Warhol’s stint in commercial sketches for the shoe brand I. Miller in the mid-fifties, when the young artist was commissioned to create campaign advertisements for the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Clearly Curtiss too is fascinated by the relationship between shoes, commercialism, and self-imaging, having curated The Shoo Sho, in which several artists’ works (including Curtiss’ own) riffed on shoe shops’ window displays. The link between bodies, gender politics, and commercial objects was blatant in this show — amplified all the more by a papier mâché version of Funky Boots in the form of Strip Boot (2021).


    In the same vein however, the commercialisation of female shoes exists in tandem to female fetishisation. As endless examples of shoe advertisements can elucidate, the sexualisation of women and mere footwear have always been intimately linked: certain boots or heels carry underlying connotations of sexual gratification or gender dynamics. This link is made patently clear in Funky Boots: the shoe in question unzips to reveal the absent female form as a literal sack of meat — purposefully charged with symbolic meaning.



    Shoe advertisement for Weyenberg Massagic shoes, circa 1972 (a version of which was reprinted in Ms. Magazine in 1974, after appearing in Playboy)


    “I am interested in the way our unconscious minds create fully-formed artworks: dreams. I like how dreams can be extremely vague and precise at once, and I aim to recreate this balance.”
    — Julie Curtiss


    Have You Any Dreams You’d Like to Sell?


    Julie Curtiss’ work fits into not one single category, though the artist has in the past remarked, ‘If the Chicago imagists and the surrealists had a baby, I think it would look a little like my work.’ vi Having lamented the underrepresentation of female Surrealism, Curtiss is at the forefront of a new movement of female Surrealists, having shown alongside other key figures such as Loie Hollowell in exhibitions Dreamers Awake and 10.



    Dorothea Tanning, Family Portrait, 1954 
    Collection of the Musée National d'Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou, Paris
    © 2022 The Destina Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Much like Dorothea Tanning, whose soft sculptures once inspired the artist, Curtiss’ art investigates gender norms through the prism of surrealism, frequently subverting preconceived ‘values’ and tradition. Alongside other graphic-heavy female surrealists of her generation such as Emily Mae Smith, Curtiss reexamines the script of art history and employs dark humour, recurrent themes, and strong visual cues and iconography to dissect the annals of art history. As Julie Curtiss has remarked:


    “I don't think I am trying to turn back the clock on the genre because I am more interested in understanding why history is the way it is. I believe that what I am doing is revisiting the genre, and paying homage to some of my favourite artists. I feel very much in the continuation of my female predecessors. So much of Surrealism is about archetypes, and male artists have extensively represented their female archetypes. The interesting thing for me, while revisiting the Surrealist language, is to turn that female archetype inside out, shifting perception, like the model descending from the pedestal and picking up a brush.”
    — Julie Curtiss


    Collector’s Digest


    Curtiss has mounted numerous exhibitions in recent years. This includes at the White Cube Gallery in London (2021), and Anton Kern Gallery in New York (2020, 2019). The artist’s work is represented in a number of museum collections around the world, among which are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Bronx Museum, New York; Columbous Museum of Art, Ohio; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. She will soon be the subject of an upcoming solo exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery in New York.



    i Julie Curtiss, quoted in Claire Milbrath, ‘Unsettling Energies with Julie Curtiss’, The Editorial Magazine, 17 September 2019, online

    ii Anna Gritz, ed., The Making of Husbands: Christina Ramberg in Dialogue, 2019, n.p.

    iii Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, ‘Julie Curtiss: Where The Wild Things Are’, Juxtapoz, online

    iv Ibid.

    v Julie Curtiss, quoted in Claire Milbrath, ‘Unsettling Energies with Julie Curtiss’, The Editorial Magazine, 17 September 2019, online

    vi Julie Curtiss, quoted in Daniel Milroy Maher, ‘Painter Julie Curtiss explores the representation of women in art history’, itsnicethat, 15 March 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Anton Kern, New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Anton Kern Gallery, 10: Louise Bonnet, Huguette Caland, Julie Curtiss, Jackie Gendel, Heidi Hahn, Loie Hollowell, Jeanne Mammen, Aliza Nisenbaum, Emily Sundblad, Alice Tippit, 12 January - 14 February 2018

    • Artist Biography

      Julie Curtiss

      Born and raised in Paris, France, Julie Curtiss (b. 1982) now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Curtiss studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris.

      The artist draws on a history of figurative painting including 18th- and 19th-century French painting, as well as the Chicago Imagists and the ‘pop’ imagery of comic books, manga and illustration. Frequent subject matter focuses on the deconstructed female body and symbols of stereotypical female aesthetics. There are similarities between Curtiss’ work and the painters of the female Surrealist movement of the early 20th century in the use of distorted perspectives, dreamscapes, and humor to reflect upon the female experience.  

      Curtiss’ work is represented in a number of museum collections, among which are Bronx Museum, New York; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; High Museum, Atlanta; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai.


      View More Works


Funky Boots

signed, titled and dated 'Julie Curtiss "Funky boots", 2017' on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
61.4 x 51 cm. (24 1/8 x 20 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for HK$1,071,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022