Julie Curtiss - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Julie Curtiss, 'Four Buns', Lot 2

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

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

  • Exhibited

    New York, Anton Kern Gallery, Julie Curtiss. Wildlife, 25 April - 15 June 2019

  • Literature

    'Julie Curtiss Unleashes "Wildlife" to Anton Kern Gallery', JUXTAPOZ, 21 May 2019 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting four buns of auburn hair spiralling in almost perfect symmetry, Four Buns, 2019, exemplifies Julie Curtiss’ fascination with the body, and her ability to transform real, tangible elements into abstract entities. The artist’s paintings, inspired by ‘a feeling, a gesture, a paradox, a story, a memory’, together compose an ever-intriguing oeuvre that draws from surrealism, film noir, and Domenico Gnoli’s haptic paintings of hair and clothing, captured from a close angle (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Emily Burns, ‘Q&A with Julie Curtiss’, Maake Magazine, 2019, online). Painted in 2019, the present work is an exquisite example of the Curtiss’ hypnotic painterly practice, gaining increasing critical momentum worldwide.

    Growing up in Paris to a Vietnamese father and a French mother, Julie Curtiss commenced her artistic studies at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, after receiving the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Award. Later, she became acquainted with the art of the Chicago Imagists, who she drew inspiration from and confesses an indebtedness to in her recent work. Bearing a specific resemblance to the paintings of Christina Ramberg, Curtiss’ work similarly touches on spatial compression and the permeating allegorical allusion to female sensuality, defined most strikingly by her use of hair as a malleable object of both fetishistic desire and revulsion. In clarifying her acute interest in 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”… interesting to observe how some people recoil at the presence of human hair, as if in the presence of a corpse’ (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, ‘Julie Curtiss: Where the Wild Things Are’, JUXTAPOZ, 2019, online).

    Profoundly allegorical, Four Buns additionally recalls Charles Baudelaire’s infamous poem La Chevelure, 1859, which twines the French poet’s feelings of lust within his loved one’s locks of hair. ‘O curls, O scents which lovely languidness exhale!’ Baudelaire wrote; similarly, Curtiss’ portrayal of four buns transcends the titular chignons’ indexical appearance. Instead, it signifies femininity and the woman’s frequent invisibility in the face of an appearance-driven society; one that focuses on hair and nails – attributes that can be tamed and groomed – without ever delving into the complexities of the soul. In other words, Curtiss infuses mundane elements with depth; in the present work, she makes it seem as though the anonymous model’s hair contains within it the history of modern painting and the luxurious glory of the female body. As remarked by the artist, ‘My artworks are psychological. […] I am interested in the various aspects that female identity can take. I like to represent smoking teacups and cigarettes, objects that call to mind a domestic, tamed image of women. On the other side, organic, ambiguous body parts allude to the archetype of a woman fused with nature and her animalistic drive’ (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Emily Burns, ‘Artist Statement’, Maake Magazine, 2019, online).

    Speaking about her creative process, Curtiss furthermore contends that, ‘I use acrylics that have a matte finish and that are highly pigmented’, to achieve a similar effect to gouache. Of the latter medium, she relishes the simultaneous flatness and vividness, particularly useful for subject matters such as hair (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Emily Burns, ‘Q&A with Julie Curtiss’, Maake Magazine, 2019, online). The present work is thus a result of Curtiss’ reflective painterly enterprise, focused on colour and depth. ‘There is a particular pleasure in putting the last touches on a painting’, she continues. ‘It's like the last straight line for a long distance runner. It seems that nothing bad can happen anymore, and you are painting from a safe place, all the hard work behind you’ (Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, ‘Julie Curtiss: Where the Wild Things Are’, JUXTAPOZ, 2019, online).

Property from an Important Collection


Four Buns

signed, titled and dated 'Four Buns, 2019 Julie Curtiss' on the reverse
acrylic, vinyl and oil on canvas
122 x 122.3 cm (48 x 48 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

£80,000 - 120,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £137,500

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020