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.
November 26, 2019–February 29, 2020
January 30–April 12, 2019
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
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.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020, 6pm
Gagosian, Hong Kong
In the interest of public health, this event has been canceled.
Join Gagosian for a tour of John Currin’s first solo exhibition in Asia, currently on view at Gagosian, Hong Kong. The exhibition presents a new series of portraits by Currin featuring his most beloved subject: women. Gagosian director Nick Simunovic will examine the genre of female portraiture in Currin’s oeuvre and explore how the artist channels his prodigious painterly skills into idealized yet perverse images that both charm and challenge. To attend the free event, RSVP to email@example.com. Space is limited.
John Currin, Shelley, 2019 © John Currin. Photo: Rob McKeever
Taipei Dangdai 2020
January 17–19, 2020, booth E20
Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Taipei Dangdai 2020, presenting works by Georg Baselitz, John Currin, Edmund de Waal, Urs Fischer, Katharina Grosse, Damien Hirst, Robert Indiana, John Mason, Takashi Murakami, Takashi Murakami & Virgil Abloh, Albert Oehlen, Nam June Paik, Steven Parrino, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Spencer Sweeney, Tom Wesselmann, and Jonas Wood, among others.
John Currin, Young Woman on a Lounger, 2014 © John Currin
Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 6:30–7:30pm
New York Studio School
John Currin will be in conversation with Brett Littman, director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York. The pair will discuss Currin’s practice as well as his exhibition, Life as a Man, on view at Dallas Contemporary through December 22. The event is free and open to the public.
John Currin, Untitled, 1995 © John Currin
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
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