THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
In Tolbrook, Currin appropriates and revises tropes from the long-established canon of nude figurative painting, fusing numerous references into an entirely new pictorial vocabulary that reveals a profound engagement and dialogue with his forebears, yet maintains a distinctly contemporary relevance. Currin takes as his source image the central figure in Otto Dix’s Three Women (Three Wenches) from 1926. Fabulously revealing Dix’s own propensity to mine art history, Dix’s Three Women (Three Wenches) is in fact itself an art historically referential painting: the title Three Women (Three Wenches) is a play on the Three Graces, a centuries-old art historical symbol of idealized female beauty with origins in Greek mythology and taken up even by such Baroque and Renaissance masters as Rafael, Sandro Botticelli, and Peter Paul Rubens. Unlike the idealized goddesses that the Three Graces represent, Dix’s Three Women (Three Wenches) depicts three prostitutes in a brothel, their distorted bodies and ghoulish faces inviting the viewer into a scene that is anything but charming or attractive to an onlooker. Currin’s invocation of Dix is especially significant, as the German Expressionist’s artistic genius and radical, startling portrayal of the human body in the wake of World War I established a new genre of figure painting that embraced dissonance and paved the way for artists such as Currin.
The young woman presented here stands alone on a stage-like platform surrounded by a candelabra with a single lit candle and porcelain dinnerware and set against a richly ornate wallpapered backdrop. Stepping out of her scant undergarments, she cranes her head to watch herself undress, seemingly reinventing the sexualized male gaze. Rather than appear shameful or embarrased, she softly smiles in a sort of self-pleasure, taking ownership of the sexualized male gaze and drawing the viewer’s eyes in as well. The fluidly shifting proportions of her body accentuate and call attention to the distorted features of her physique: her elongated neck, her sharply protruding hips, her unnaturally narrow waist and small breasts, her knobby knees and her masculine legs. These distortions, particularly her unnaturally elongated neck, recall the inclination to stretch and distort the body in Mannerist portraiture, most famously in Parmigianino Mazzola’s Madonna with the Long Neck from 1534-40. Standing alone and entirely nude aside from her half-adorned lingerie and the thick gold band around her neck, the young woman is reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s Olympia from 1863, in which a prostitute confronts the viewer, entirely nude aside from a necklace tied around her neck.
Dense with art historical references, Tolbrook richly imparts Currin’s very best formal evocation of the influences that have informed, and themes that have defined, his monumentally significant oeuvre. The subtle idiosyncrasies that infiltrate Tolbrook pit the surreal against the corporeal, epitomizing Currin’s career-long enthrallment with the female body and his obsessive compulsion to deform and deconstruct it as form of praise and adoration.
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