John Currin (1962, Boulder, USA). Lives and works in New York.
Since the 1990s, John Currin has reigned as one of the art world’s greatest provocateurs residing on the double-edged sword of desire and disgust. By combining classical tropes of beauty, such as the lounging Northern Renaissance nude, with contemporary images such as those found in today’s porn and fashion magazines, Currin criticizes the societal ideals of beauty and posits that our fascination with vanity is eternal.
With his mastery of graphic and painterly techniques, combined with a predilection for the extreme, the humorous, and the ribald, his subjects challenge social and sexual taboos while subverting the historical linearity of artistic genres. His presentations are intended as satirical references to society’s ever-present barrage of the elusive “ideal” fed to us through art history, media, advertising, and the glossy pages of magazines.
Among a wave of artists, including Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville and John Sonsini, John Currin renewed an interest in portraiture, searching for the point at which the beautiful and the ugly are held in perfect balance. His work, which mingles an early training in classical painting with a decidedly American palate for the absurdity found in kitsch, presents figurative portraits, often nude, that reflect the perversity within our culture’s obsession with beauty and perfection. Upon first glance, Currin’s paintings may seem like realistic figurative portrayals of the beautiful, yet upon closer inspection something goes awry. A body part emerges larger than its otherwise symmetrical parts, the neck on a graceful vixen might stretch inordinately long, or the female nude central to our observation turns out to be too old and too far from the Old masters ideals – these slight distortions tip the painting toward the grotesque.
The pleasure of voyeurism turns into discomfort and we are asked to reflect upon the original motivations within our glance. This exploration into vanity continues to inform his work today.
In 2012 Currin’s paintings were exhibited at the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands alongside masterpieces by the Dutch Golden Age painter Cornelis van Haarlem, revealing the clear historical links between the two artists’ treatment of flesh, surface texture, light, and shadow.
According to reader survey published by The Times, Currin is one of the Top 200 Artists of the 20th Century.
“There’s a kind of a distortion that happens with adoration” – John Currin.
John Currin is represented in major museum collections including Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Tate Collection (London), Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA, Chicago), and Centre Pompidou (Paris).