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.
February 19–April 11, 2015
October 21–December 21, 2013
November 4–December 23, 2010
980 Madison Avenue, New York
November 11–December 22, 2006
980 Madison Avenue, New York
From the Quarterly
Drawing is a First Date
John Currin speaks about drawing with Brett Littman, Director of The Drawing Center in New York.
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.
Fairs, Events & Announcements
June 14–17, 2018
Messe Basel, booth B11
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel 2018, presenting works by modern and contemporary artists including Georg Baselitz, John Chamberlain, Dan Colen, John Currin, Willem de Kooning, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Jennifer Guidi, Andreas Gursky, Neil Jenney, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Takashi Murakami, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Tansey, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, and Tom Wesselmann. To receive a PDF with detailed information on the works, please contact the gallery at email@example.com. To preview our booth go to www.artsy.net. To purchase tickets to attend the fair go to www.artbasel.com.
Georg Baselitz, Frau am Strand (Woman on the Beach), 1981 © Georg Baselitz 2018
TEFAF New York
May 4–8, 2018, booth 70
Park Avenue Armory, New York
Gagosian is pleased to participate in TEFAF, New York, presenting new works by John Currin and Brice Marden. Portraits by Currin will be juxtaposed with multilayered, calligraphic works on paper by Marden. To receive a PDF with detailed information on the works, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org. To preview our booth go to www.artsy.net. To purchase tickets to attend the fair go to www.tefaf.com.
John Currin, Untitled, 2018 (detail) © John Currin
Art Basel Hong Kong
March 29–31, 2018, booth ICI8
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong. To view highlights from the booth in advance of the fair visit www.artsy.com. Our presentation will include works by Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joe Bradley, Cecily Brown, Glenn Brown, Alexander Calder, John Currin, Willem de Kooning, Edmund De Waal, Jean Dubuffet, Urs Fischer, Lucio Fontana, Walton Ford, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Jia Aili, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein, Karen Kneffel, Jeff Koons, Harmony Korine, Roy Lichtenstein, Takashi Murakami, Takashi Murakami & Virgil Abloh, Albert Oehlen, Nam June Paik, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Saville, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Tansey, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Jonas Wood, Christopher Wool, and Zeng Fanzhi. Tickets are available at www.artbasel.com.
Zeng Fanzhi, 8, 2018 © Zeng Fanzhi 2018
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.
Man Ray, Pisces, 1938 ©︎ Man RayTrust. Photo © Tate, London 2018
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
The Body Laid Bare
Masterpieces from the Tate
March 18–July 16, 2017
Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand
Journeying through time, from the classical, biblical, and literary subjects of the nineteenth century to the body politics of contemporary art, this 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. The exhibition travels to the Seoul Olympic Museum of Art in South Korea, opening August 11, 2017.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #97, 1982, Tate © Cindy Sherman. Photo © Tate, London 2017
John Currin in
Lucas Cranach the Elder: 500 Years of the Power of Temptation
January 28–April 16, 2017
The National Museum of Art,
This exhibition, the first devoted to Lucas Cranach the Elder in Japan, will explore the entire scope of Cranach’s work and trace his influences on modern and contemporary artists like John Currin, whose 1999 painting Sno-bo is featured in the exhibition.
John Currin, Sno-bo, 1999. Photo by Rob McKeever