The second edition of TEFAF New York Spring fair opened on 3 May with remarkable and unconventional works of female portraiture.

John Currin at Gagosian


JOHN CURRIN, LOAF OF BREAD, 2018. OIL ON CANVAS. 42 BY 34 INCHES. © JOHN CURRIN. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROB MCKEEVER. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GAGOSIAN.

Bewitching peculiar new paintings by American painter John Currin set a lasting impression at this Spring’s TEFAF fair. Currin, who is famously adept at exploring the ambiguous overlap between the odd and beautiful, cleverly transforms rather ordinary assortments of domestic objects, combined with nude portraiture into intriguing fine works of art. Reminiscent of Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century still life paintings, abundant with lush food and objects, Currin’s own ironic rendition includes sliced bread, an apple, and two roses in a glass pitcher in Loaf of Bread (2018). In the background, a woman appears to be drifting in a languid daydream – her gaze is lackadaisical and her awkward elongated face is distorted to simulate the slow twisting grooves on the pitcher. Her mouth, slightly ajar, is astutely framed by the pitcher’s handle and emerges as red and ripe as the apple, equally plump as her rounded left cheek. Amidst the mundane condition of domestic life, demonstrated through the bland spread of goods to the subject’s blasé state, Currin ingeniously inverts the situation by serving precisely the same product – a warped state of mind fueled by its own banality.


JOHN CURRIN, FLUGEL HORN, 2018. OIL ON CANVAS. 32 BY 24 INCHES. © JOHN CURRIN. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROB MCKEEVER. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GAGOSIAN.

The presence and influence of Currin’s wife and longtime muse, Rachel Feinstein, is recognizable in these new works. Currin’s favored references, which range from 1950s advertisements to pin-up girls, become even more curious as they are meticulously executed in the style of the Old Masters. Feinstein’s familiar deep-set eyes, glamorous hair and complexion, and exaggerated nude figure makes a welcome and dramatic debut at TEFAF. In Flugel Horn (2018), the subject’s nude and puzzlingly contorted body could be pieced together by looking through a brazenly placed flugelhorn in front of her. The earlier version of the flugelhorn is derived from a German eighteenth-century hunting horn. The proud huntress, who wears an open and torn-at-her-elbow blouse and a fur hat, unabashedly reveals her drooping larger right breast juxtaposed vertically by her curiously acute elbow. Similar to Loaf of Bread, the subject is also skillfully and elaborately painted. The horn’s handle frames part of her face, exposing a blurry left eye, balanced by the cloudy reflection of the instrument. The fullness of her youthful face and body is joined with suggestive points of tension vulnerable to sensitivity: her elbow, nipples, the cork of the rosé bottle, the horn’s mouth and buttons. Favoring erotic comedies lauding unexpected disparities, Currin masterfully paints the weirdly beautiful.


LUCIAN FREUD, A GIRL (PAULINE TENNANT), 1945. CONTE CRAYON AND COLOURED CHALK ON GREY/ GREEN PAPER. 17 BY 5 INCHES. COURTESY THOMAS GIBSON FINE ART

Lucian Freud at Thomas Gibson Fine Art

An arresting earlier work on paper by Lucian Freud, A Girl (Pauline Tennant) (1945), exquisitely captures a delicately intricate moment whilst imbued in her undeniable beauty. English actress and socialite Pauline Tennant, the daughter of David Tennant (founder of London’s exclusive Gargoyle Club), came to meet the then young artist Lucian Freud at her father’s club, which attracted the most creatively inclined set from the 1920s through to the 1950s. Freud illustrates his muse Pauline with a considerable amount of detail assimilating the complexity and softness of her hair to her partially masked facial expression. Suggesting the reservation she feels induced by the male gaze, her right eye is dark and concealed, while her left eye is clear and observant. The mystery of her true reflections remain obscure, seducing the viewer closer to the subject.


Ahnna Lee is a New York-based writer and editor.