John Currin (1962, Boulder, USA).
Lives and works in New York, NY, USA.
Since the 1990s, John Currin has established himself as one of the art world’s most influential provocateurs, delving into the complex interplay of desire and disgust. By juxtaposing classical beauty ideals, such as the lounging Northern Renaissance nude, with contemporary images drawn from pornographic and fashion magazines, Currin offers a critical examination of societal notions of beauty and suggests that our preoccupation with vanity is a timeless fascination.
Through his exceptional command of graphic and painterly techniques, as well as his penchant for the outrageous, the comedic, and the sensual, Currin’s subjects challenge both social and sexual taboos, while simultaneously subverting the linear progression of artistic genres throughout history. His portrayals serve as satirical commentary on society’s ceaseless inundation with the elusive “ideal,” perpetuated through art history, media, advertising, and glossy magazine pages.
Among a wave of artists, including Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville and John Sonsini, John Currin revitalized the genre of portraiture, seeking to strike a delicate equilibrium between beauty and ugliness. 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.
At first glance, Currin’s paintings may deceive the viewer into perceiving them as realistic portrayals of beauty. However, upon closer inspection, something subtly deviates from the expected norms. A body part may appear disproportionately larger than its symmetrical counterparts, the neck of an elegant seductress might elongate unnaturally, or the female nude, positioned at the center of our attention, may deviate from the ideals set by the Old Masters, revealing an aging form. These slight distortions push the paintings towards the realm of the grotesque.
What initially grants us the pleasure of voyeurism gradually transforms into discomfort, compelling us to reflect upon the underlying motivations that drive our initial glances. This exploration of vanity persists as a driving force behind Currin’s present-day artistic creations.
One of the notable museum highlights is Currin’s exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands in 2012, where his paintings were showcased alongside masterpieces by the Dutch Golden Age painter Cornelis van Haarlem. The exhibition revealed the evident historical connections between the two artists’ approaches to portraying 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, such as Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (New York, NY, USA), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, USA), Tate (London, UK), Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) (Chicago, IL, USA), and Centre Pompidou (Paris, France).