Lot 3
  • 3

John Currin

Estimate
500,000 - 700,000 USD
Sold
2,965,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • John Currin
  • Lydian
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Donated by the artist

Catalogue Note

John Currin is one of the key figures in a group of American artists who emerged in the 1990s and redefined figurative painting. Currin’s style fuses influences from European art history with found photographic imagery from sources including magazines, mail-order catalogues, high school yearbooks, and the Internet, in meticulously rendered paintings whose elongated figures, exaggerated bodies, and caricatured faces imbue his subjects with what has been described as a “vicious power” (Jennifer Higgie, “John Currin,” Frieze, no. 105, March 2007). Currin’s paintings span the arc between Versailles and Middle America, in compositions evocative of Norman Rockwell yet rendered with the delicacy, tenderness, and refined sensuality of Fragonard. His female portraits evoke the photographic appropriations of Picabia’s 1940s hat check girls, the porcelain skin tones of Cranach’s nudes, and the erotic paintings of Courbet, a painter to whom he feels a particular closeness. In the decadent, hyper-mediated social, financial, and technological environment of the 1990s and 2000s, the tension between art history and mass culture evident in Currin’s work, articulated through his carefully chosen vocabulary of kitsch, vulgarity, art historical dislocation, and desire, signaled a rejection of bourgeois good taste so deliberate that it appeared to be a form of resistance. Currin’s parody of excess held a mirror up to the decadence of the period in which he came of age as a painter.
The mid-career retrospective of Currin’s work that took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2003, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Serpentine Gallery in London, confirmed his position as a major voice in contemporary art. Currin’s work had previously been shown in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, and has appeared in six exhibitions at the museum to date. The Whitney’s permanent collection contains his painting Skinny Woman (1992), an iconic work from his portrait series of middle-aged women; here the angular subject appears in fashionably restrained attire against a soft beige field, gazing intently into the distance. Three drawings are also part of the collection: The Prada Lady (1997)—a pencil drawing in profile of a female figure with an enormous bosom walking with a cane—and two untitled works in brush and brown ink and graphite; one depicts a woman clad in scanty transparent apparel straining against an impossibly large package on her back, while the other depicts two women, one wearing a veil and the other, a large brimmed hat.
Lydian (2013), in contrast to these caricatures, is an exquisitely rendered portrait of a young woman from ancient times. Created especially for the occasion of the Whitney benefit auction, this painting illustrates classical beauty with all the splendor and grandeur of a Pre-Raphaelite or Mannerist masterpiece. The Lydians, a people of Asia Minor (in what is now western Turkey), achieved a society of great wealth and luxury before being conquered in the mid-sixth century B.C. by the Persians, and later by Alexander the Great. Here, the youthful subject gazes serenely out of the picture plane, as if into a mirror. Likened to the ripe fruits that adorn her coiffure, her unclothed body seems almost to glow, an effect the artist achieved by painstakingly working the skin tones into a white underpainting. While the artist’s soft brushstrokes and attention to shadow emphasize the fleshy corporeality of the figure, the Lydian’s face retains a wholesomeness typical of Currin’s distinctive portraiture.
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