Lot 13
  • 13


800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • John Currin
  • Minerva
  • signed and dated 2000 on the overlap
  • oil on canvas
  • 71.1 by 55.9 cm. 28 by 22 in.


Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2001


Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Painting at the Edge of the World, February - May 2001, p. 251, illustrated in colour
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Vienna, Kuntshalle Wien; Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, "Dear Painter, Paint Me...", Painting the Figure since late Picabia, June 2002 - April 2003, p. 83, illustrated in colour
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; London, Serpentine Gallery; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, John Currin, May 2003 - February 2004, p. 100, illustrated in colour


Robert Storr, ‘John Currin: Master of Grotesque’, Art Press, June 2002, No. 280, p. 48, illustrated in colour
Sibylle Berg, ‘Viele bunte Bilder, darauf:… Lots of colorful pictures, in them’, Parkett, No. 65, September 2002, p. 53, illustrated in colour
Michael Kimmelman, ‘With Barbed Wit Aforethought’, The New York Times, 21 November 2003, p. E37, illustrated  Kara Vander Weg and Rose Dergan, Eds., John Currin, New York 2006, p. 271, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly lighter and less yellow in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

At once enchanting and beguiling, John Currin’s Minerva exemplifies the American artist’s signature style of painting which fuses wry humour with psychological intensity to intriguing – and unsettling – effect. Drawing the traditional medium and genre of virtuosic oil painting and portraiture together with less conventional influences ranging from 1950s-style advertisements and magazines to pin-up girls and erotica, Currin’s oeuvre grapples predominantly with the representation of the female form. His portraits, which span from the deeply poignant to the outright provocative, explore the fine line between the alluring and the unsavoury, as they contend with a consumer-driven and desire-fuelled contemporary world. As the art historian Norman Bryson attests, “Currin’s technique involves a continuous swerve between attraction and repulsion, pleasure and guilt, joy and shame” (Norman Bryson, “Maudit: John Currin and Morphology,” in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, John Currin, 2006, p. 30). Indeed, in Minerva, Currin’s doe-eyed protagonist seems to hover tenuously between the glamorous and the grotesque: on the brink of fast-approaching old age, her parted red lips, rouged cheeks, Hollywood hair-do and silk lilac shirt become comical absurdities, starkly juxtaposed by her sallow skin, sunken eyes and sharp, angular features. A master of the satirical, Currin delves his viewer into a timeless realm in which the boundaries between past and present, fiction and reality, the innocuous and the iniquitous begin to dissolve beyond distinction. Currin’s oeuvre is rich in allusion to Old Master paintings, and whilst his portraits evade direct visual reference, they often harbour a persistent and uncanny resemblance to the work or style of certain artists. The painters of the Northern Renaissance, from Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer to Cranach and Dürer, sit amongst his greatest sources of influence. Re-envisaged in contemporary scenarios, Currin’s curious portraits provide compelling meditations on many of art history’s most enduring precedents. Fascinated by the oft unwavering depiction of the female subject throughout history, with its voyeuristic and scopophilic undertones, Currin’s paintings point to a society that remains, in many ways, unchanged: “I think that painting has always been essentially about women,” he writes, “about looking at things in the same way that a straight man looks at a woman. The urge to objectify is more a male urge than a female one, and painting is one of the most personal and succinct methods of male objectification of the female” (John Currin cited in: ‘Cherchez la femme Peintre! A Parkett Inquiry’, Parkett, No. 37, 1993, p. 146). The title of the present work pertains to the Roman goddess of wisdom, warfare, poetry and art, who was similarly portrayed by Rembrandt in 1635. In Rembrandt’s Minerva – as in Currin’s – the female subject is set against a quintessentially shadowy backdrop, and dressed in a satin lilac robe. Whilst her flowing blonde locks are crowned with a flourishing garland of leaves, however, Currin’s Minerva is sardonically adorned on either side of her temple with two crisp and withering green leaves, just past their prime: a playful inference to one of art history’s most venerable symbols for the fleeting transience of beauty and life.

Exhibited in a number of internationally acclaimed exhibitions, including ones at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 2002, and the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 2003, Minerva encapsulates Currin’s hallmark style of portraiture in which Old Master bravura meets the gritty realities of contemporary life in a union as unlikely as it is sagaciously astute. Minerva’s overzealous smile, stretched to reveal a dazzling and oddly distended set of teeth, becomes an empty parody of the all-American dream. In drawing from a culture infatuated with unattainable beauty ideals, cosmetic surgery, airbrushing and a longing for eternal youth, Currin’s paintings provide a social critique on an image-saturated world that is simultaneously desirable and disconcerting. For Currin, painting inevitably becomes a means of self-reflexive introspection in which his own sentiments – the good, the bad and the ugly – are projected onto his canvases. As he explains, “if there’s a reverse logic to my work, it’s that the pictures of men are about men and the pictures of woman are about me” (John Currin cited in: A. M. Homes, ‘V. F. Portrait: John Currin,’ Vanity Fair, September 2011, online). His wife and long-time muse Rachel Feinstein similarly becomes incorporated into many of his portraits, and indeed her recognisable features are caricatured in the present work. Beautifully seductive and rivetingly bizarre, Minerva flutters between high-art and mass culture, the ancient and the contemporary, the eternal and the ephemeral, metaphorically contemplating a world in constant flux.