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.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2021
The Fall 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Damien Hirst’s Reclining Woman (2011) on its cover.
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 Miami Beach 2022
December 1–3, 2022, Booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to present a selection of modern and contemporary works at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Returning to Miami for the fair’s twentieth anniversary, the gallery is honored to have participated each year the fair has been held.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Gerhard Richter; © Amoako Boafo; © Richard Prince; © 2022 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Stanley Whitney. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
Art Basel Miami Beach 2021
December 2–4, 2021, booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to announce its participation in Art Basel Miami Beach 2021 with a presentation of modern and contemporary works. A selection of these works will also appear on gagosian.com and on Art Basel’s Online Viewing Room.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Artwork, left to right: © Albert Oehlen; © Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Mary Weatherford. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
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, Rick Lowe, 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.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel 2021. Artwork, left to right: © Ed Ruscha, © Mark Tansey, © Glenn Brown, © Succession Picasso 2021, © Jenny Saville, © Albert Oehlen, © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, © Cy Twombly Foundation, © Mary Weatherford. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
John Currin in
Pictus Porrectus: Reconsidering the Full Length Portrait
July 1–October 2, 2022
Isaac Bell House, Newport, Rhode Island
After more than a century of falling out of fashion, the full-length, life-size portrait—which originally served as an ostentatious display of power and wealth that reinforced aristocratic and ecclesiastical hierarchies—has undergone a radical paradigm shift in recent decades. Contemporary artists have breathed new life into this old-fashioned genre by reinvigorating it with new subjects outside of passé Anglo-European power structures. This exhibition of full-length portraiture, curated by Alison Gingeras and Dodie Kazanjian, is a collaboration between Art & Newport and the Preservation Society of Newport County. Work by John Currin is included.
John Currin, Sunflower, 2021 © John Currin
An Anthology of Fashion
May 7–September 5, 2022
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In America: An Anthology of Fashion is the second portion of a two-part exhibition exploring fashion in the United States. Men’s and women’s clothing dating from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century is featured in vignettes installed in select period rooms in the museum’s American Wing, surveying more than two centuries of American domestic life. The exhibition reflects these narratives through a series of three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames” produced in collaboration with notable American film directors, including Sofia Coppola, who enlisted Rachel Feinstein and John Currin to sculpt and paint the faces of her mannequins. These mise-en-scènes explore the role of dress in shaping American identity and address the complex and layered histories of the museum’s period rooms.
McKim, Mead & White Stair Hall staged by Sofia Coppola in collaboration with Rachel Feinstein and John Currin, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2022. Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Artists Inspired by Music
January 30–February 13, 2022
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Interscope Records, the company invited artists to select albums and songs from Interscope’s groundbreaking catalogue and fostered exchanges between artists and musicians to generate resonant pairings. The exhibition, which includes more than fifty works, brings an intergenerational group of visual artists into dialogue with iconic musicians from the last three decades, providing a fresh perspective on influential music for the present moment. Work by John Currin, Jennifer Guidi, Damien Hirst, Titus Kaphar, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, and Anna Weyant is included.
Jennifer Guidi, Seeking Hearts (Black MT, Pink Sand, Pink CS, Pink Ground), 2021 © Jennifer Guidi. Photo: Brica Wilcox
and I will wear you in my heart of heart
May 1–August 13, 2021
FLAG Art Foundation, New York
Centering on a gesture of care, the exhibition and I will wear you in my heart of heart explores the myriad ways in which thirty-five artists evoke tenderness through depictions of lovers and friends, familial exchanges, moments of solitude, and even a cowboy and his pastel pink unicorn. The exhibition includes recent and new works created for the exhibition that embody the cross-generational resurgence in figuration as a mode of exploring identity, cultural histories, and personal experiences. Work by John Currin and Anna Weyant is included.
Installation view, and I will wear you in my heart of heart, FLAG Art Foundation, New York, May 1–August 31, 2021. Artwork, left to right: © John Currin, © Anna Weyant. Photo: Steven Probert