The one thing I can do is make a fairly convincing fantasy of happiness. It doesn’t mean that I’m happy or the painting isn’t creepy, but good melancholy comes from a thwarted joy, which is another way to describe parenthood, or marriage, or being alive.
John Currin uses classical painterly techniques to portray highly charged social and sexual taboos. With inspirations as diverse as Old Master portraits, pinups, pornography, and B movies, he paints ideational, challengingly perverse images of women, from lusty nymphs to dour matrons. Consistent throughout his work is the search for the point at which the beautiful and the grotesque are held in perfect balance.
As an undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, Currin painted abstract works in the style of Willem de Kooning, seeking to evoke the nude through visceral, expressive brushstrokes. By the time he went on to pursue his MFA at Yale University, he saw a “forced masculinity” in these early works and realized that they were an “attempt to be a tortured artist.” Reacting against this, he began to explore themes of innocence, humor, and sexuality—creating images of stylized horses, girls with feathered hair, large-headed caricatures, and realistic portraits of individuals and couples. In the early 2000s he went on to produce a series of paintings that combine hard-core pornography with traditional still-life elements, depicting explicit sex acts taking place in decorative interiors.
In 2011–12 Currin’s paintings were shown alongside masterpieces by the Dutch Golden Age painter Cornelis van Haarlem at the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands, revealing the historical links between the artists’ treatment of flesh, surface texture, light, and shadow. In the early 2010s Currin worked primarily on depictions of lone female nudes—rather than couples or threesomes—both in lounging, evocative poses and in classical portrait compositions. His wife, the artist Rachel Feinstein, served as Currin’s model for many of these works. Her distinctive classical features continue to make their way into his more recent paintings, in which he subtly distorts the face and body through mannerist elongations and other anatomical exaggerations.
Recently Currin has made the pornographic content of his paintings less explicit, relegating glimpses of sex scenes to the background, or implying eroticism through food or other symbols. While some paintings show blank smiling faces reminiscent of those in department store catalogues, others feature elderly couples seemingly unaware of the random objects perched on their heads. The lighthearted thinking and compositional planning behind these works was revealed in 2017 when Gagosian presented Currin’s drawings at Frieze New York. The career-spanning selection of works exposed the complex networks of historical and pop cultural references, as well as the simple jokes, that come together seamlessly in the artist’s expertly rendered paintings.
John Currin: Monuments to Lust
Natasha Stagg reports on a trip to John Currin’s New York studio.
Fashion and Art: Proenza Schouler
Derek Blasberg speaks with Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the designers behind the New York fashion brand Proenza Schouler, about their influences and collaborations, from Mark Rothko to Harmony Korine.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2020
The Spring 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #412 (2003) on its cover.
Mansplaining: Figuring Masculinity in the Age of #MeToo
In light of recent developments around the definition of masculinity in American culture, Alison M. Gingeras, the curator of John Currin: My Life as a Man at Dallas Contemporary, looks closely at the artist’s depictions of male subjects.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Drawing is a First Date
John Currin speaks with Brett Littman about drawing.
John Currin: On Drawing
John Currin on the relationship between his drawing and painting practices.
The artist speaks with Derek Blasberg on Los Angeles, Kippenberger, and his newest body of work.
Art Basel 2021
September 24–26, 2021, hall 2, booth C8
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel 2021 with modern and contemporary works by gallery artists, as well as several special entries in the Unlimited and Parcours sectors of the fair.
Gagosian’s booth in the main sector of the fair will feature works by Georg Baselitz, Glenn Brown, John Currin, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Titus Kaphar, Albert Oehlen, Sterling Ruby, and Mary Weatherford, among others. A selection of these works will also appear on gagosian.com and on Art Basel’s Online Viewing Room.
Urs Fischer, Better Halves Bitter Ends, 2020 © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger
West Bund Art & Design 2020
November 12–15, 2020, booth A102
West Bund Art Center, Shanghai
Gagosian is pleased to participate in West Bund Art & Design 2020 with an extensive group presentation. Along with the gallery’s booth at ART021 Shanghai, on view between November 14 and 15, this will be Gagosian’s first in-person art fair since the covid-19 lockdown in March. The gallery’s participation was made possible by extraordinary support from the artists involved.
John Currin, Pistachio, 2016 © John Currin
Ed Ruscha to kick off new season of Gagosian’s online series
Launching September 16, 2020
Gagosian is unveiling a new vision for the Artist Spotlight series that will operate independently of our exhibition program. This will cement the platform’s status as a vibrant aspect of the gallery’s programming that allows artists to operate imaginatively beyond the physical exhibition format.
The second season of Artist Spotlight—a series that focuses on an individual artist for one week each month—premieres on September 16, 2020, with a new project by legendary artist Ed Ruscha. A selection of works by preeminent artists—including John Currin, Takashi Murakami, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Rachel Whiteread—will debut this fall. For updates, please contact the gallery at email@example.com.
Ed Ruscha. Photo: Sten Rosenlund
My Life as a Man
September 15–December 22, 2019
Curated by Alison M. Gingeras, My Life as a Man focuses exclusively on John Currin’s depictions of his own gender, examining provocative depictions of a range of masculine identities over the course of his career. Beginning with works made in 1990, the exhibition aims to critically analyze Currin’s male gaze when it is trained on the identity politics of manhood. The show also features more than fifty works on paper and sketchbook drawings of male figures that have never been publicly exhibited.
John Currin, Fishermen, 2002 © John Currin
Contemporary Dialogues with Tintoretto
October 20, 2018–February 24, 2019
Zuecca Project Space, Venice
Marking the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of artist Jacopo Tintoretto, this exhibition underscores the modernity and innovative power of his paintings. Conceived as part of an itinerary that includes Tintoretto’s masterpieces preserved at the Palazzo Ducale and Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro in Venice, the exhibition features a constellation of portraits—both traditional and irreverent—by leading contemporary artists that create a stimulating and surprising dialogue with the old master’s paintings. Work by Glenn Brown and John Currin is included.
Glenn Brown, Nostalgia, 2016 © Glenn Brown
Art from the Tate Collection
March 24–June 24, 2018
Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan
Journeying through time, from the nineteenth century to the present, this exhibition brings together masterpieces by renowned artists including Francis Bacon, John Currin, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Cindy Sherman. More than one hundred artworks tell the story of the nude and trace artists’ captivation with the human form over the past two centuries. The exhibition has most recently traveled from the Seoul Olympic Museum of Art.
John Currin, Honeymoon Nude, 1998, Tate, London © Joyn Currin
Masterpieces from the Tate
August 11–December 25, 2017
Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, South Korea
This traveling exhibition brings together masterpieces by renowned artists including Francis Bacon, John Currin, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Cindy Sherman. Beautiful, sensual, and at times provocative, more than one hundred artworks tell the story of the nude and trace artists’ captivation with the human form over the past two centuries.
Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932, Tate © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo © Tate, London 2017