Friday, February 16, 2007

The Pornographer John Currin

A few people have written to us, asking our opinion of contemporary painter, John Currin. While Remodernists promote and extol "new figurative painting with ideas," - there is painting and then there is painting. Despite the fact that Currin is a figurative painter, he is decidedly in the postmodern camp. His mockish works are laden with gimmickry, sarcasm, an unvarnished disdain for humanity, and an open hatred of women. That his mediocre abilities are celebrated at all is an indication of just how far art world standards have fallen in recent decades.

Painting by John Currin
[ The Bra Shop - John Currin Oil on canvas 1997. Misogyny on display. ]

Writing for, David Cohen reviewed Currin’s 2006 exhibit at Gagosian Gallery in New York. That review was also published in the New York Sun under the title of, "A Bit Nasty to Women, But Respectful to Dishware." Currin’s show was a mix of still lifes depicting porcelain dinning ware, and a number of paintings showing people engaged in sexual activity. The later were devoid of even an inkling of eroticism, but instead were imbued with Currin’s usual contempt for people. Making a comparison between Norman Rockwell and Currin, Cohen wrote in his review; "They both rely on received skills and traditional-looking techniques that impress by familiarity. While each strikes out with inventive, genuinely memorable images, Rockwell's appeal was to humanism, Mr. Currin's, to a low-octane sadism."

Painting by John Currin
[ Twisting Girl - John Currin Oil on canvas 1996. With a palette knife, Currin applied a heavy impasto of paint on the girls face, but that’s not what’s meant to draw your attention. The artist’s visage of woman - ridiculous, inferior, sexually available. ]

While Currin admitted in an 2006 interview with New York Magazine, that for source material he’s "pulled some things off the Internet, old Danish porn," his admitting to this fact in no way diminishes the scandal. Many artists use photos for reference - that is not our objection. What is reprehensible about Currin’s use of such photos is his total failure to reinterpret the image for artistic purposes - he merely made direct copies of 1970’s pornographic images - and he did so poorly.

Painting by John Currin
[ The image on the left comes from a 1970’s Danish pornography magazine. Currin’s painting on the right is an almost exact copy, save for the repositioned and clumsily painted hand. The images shown here are edited details. To view the images in their entirety - careful, not for children - visit Chris Rywalt’s NYC Art blog, where you can read more about Currin’s use of porn. ]

Currin didn’t even have the talent or vision to photograph models to base his erotic works upon, instead he turned to an ignoble source. But for an artist who places so much importance on irony, there is no biting wit to be found in these porn inspired paintings; Currin has simply revealed his weakness, he may have technical ability as a painter - but he is devoid of the heart necessary to offer us anything worth knowing. There are undoubtedly those who will find some type of profundity in Currin’s attempt at reshaping pornography into high art - but all we see is empty, soulless, anti-humanist postmodern nonsense.