Julie Curtiss - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    The Hole, New York
    Private Collection
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Julie Tuyet Curtiss: Reflections (curated by Hein Koh), February 28 - March 6, 2017

  • Literature

    “Julie Curtiss”, Work in Progress, June 2017, online (illustrated)
    “Brigitte Mulholland with Julie Curtiss”, PAINTING IS DEAD, November 2, 2017, online (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Depicting the female body as a vibrantly loaded cannon of carnal desire, Julie Curtiss’s alluring paintings reenvision the conceptual and aesthetic principles of Surrealism for the contemporary era. Epitomizing Curtiss’s painterly approach to 21st century sexuality and the uncanny, Party Down, 2016 is a large-scale example of the distinctive yet referential visual lexicon that has launched the artist to international acclaim. Destabilizing the art-historical trope of the female nude, Party Down depicts two women—one wholly nude, the other in a garter belt holding a whip—caught in an act of sensual indiscretion. Their bodies, contoured with short feather strokes, and weaponized, acute breasts are echoed in dramatic, distorted shadows as the women cover their faces before the bright light brought by the intruder. Coalescing French modernism with American graphic decisions, Curtiss’s precise execution of fetishistic subject matters upend conventional notions of gender, sexuality, and pictorial narration.

    Though the artist has articulated her admiration for Édouard Manet's pioneering depictions of carnal hedonism and Gustave Courbet’s privately-commissioned explicit paintings from the 1860s, such as Woman with White Stockings, 1864, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Curtiss’s images exude a mysterious eroticism more evocative of that of Surrealism. Chiefly driven by their concern with Freudian psychology and the subconscious, many Surrealists executed works with a palpable sexual dimension; in fact, this preoccupation was enthusiastically supported by André Breton and Louis Aragon, who published an article in 1928 memorializing hysteria. “We Surrealists are anxious to celebrate… hysteria, the greatest poetic discovery of the end of the nineteenth century,” Aragon and Breton declared. “Hysteria is not a pathological phenomenon and can be considered in every respect a supreme means of expression” (André Breton and Louis Aragon, “The Quinquagenary of Hysteria (1878-1928)”, La Révolution surréaliste, no. 11, March 1928). Indulging in their own physical desire, the two women in Party Down contrastingly appear to be flushed—even mortified as they cover their faces—when they are caught expressing their sexuality. Always interested in the distinction between the “domesticated” and “wild” female archetypes, Curtiss accentuates the internal shame still associated with female eroticism, despite its fetishism by Surrealist doctrine.

    Curtiss’s artistic language perhaps most conspicuously betrays an affinity to that of the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists who attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and exhibited together in the mid- to late 1960s. Bearing a specific resemblance to the paintings of the group’s associate, Christina Ramberg, Party Down evokes its predecessor’s work through its provocative subject matter, tightly framed composition, and exploitation of hair as a malleable object of both fetishistic desire and revulsion. In clarifying their shared interest of the latter, Curtiss explained, “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’” (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, “Julie Curtiss: Where the Wild Things Are”, Juxtapoz Magazine, 2019, online). Fingernails function similarly in Curtiss and Ramberg’s work: while the manicured, red-lacquered nails of the women in Party Down carry seductive connotations, fingernails detached from cuticles are typically considered to be revolting, or even nauseating. In their untraditional portrayals of female sexuality, Curtiss and Ramberg subvert arbitrary conventions of sensuality and beauty perpetuated by the male gaze.

    As Ramberg and the Surrealists did, Curtiss meticulously erects enigmatic scenes and characters that challenge societal convictions regarding womanhood and sexuality. Only two party-goers are represented in the painting, but a whip sneaking into the right side of the composition informs the viewer of an indiscernible third presence; moreover, though the women are concealing their visages, the Magritte-ian absence of any facial features causes an uncertainty about what they are attempting to obscure. Indeed, nothing is safe from Curtiss’s engagement with enigma in Party Down—not even the characters’ femininity, which is jeopardized by their sinister, monstrous hands, that according to the artist, have “something masculine about them—kind of fleshy or claw-like. I represent women, but there are always masculine elements in the women” (Julie Curtiss, quoted in “Brigitte Mulholland with Julie Curtiss”, PAINTING IS DEAD, November 2, 2017, online).

    Created two years after the artist began working for KAWS, Party Down also incorporates the pronounced, distorted shadows that Curtiss learned from her mentor, imbuing the painting with a further sense of mystery and secrecy; indeed, the shadow of the figure on the right’s hand resembles an alien appendage. A comical, impenetrable depiction of a BDSM party, the work is emblematic of the capacity of her salacious narratives to explore the pictorial concerns of the past within her present context. “So much of Surrealism is about archetypes, and male artists have extensively represented their female archetypes,” Curtis outlined. “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, quoted in Evan Pricco, “Julie Curtiss: Where the Wild Things Are”, Juxtapoz Magazine, 2019, online).

  • 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


Party Down

signed, titled and dated "Party Down, 2016 Julie Curtiss" on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 2016.

$30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for $400,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019