John Currin at Gagosian, Beverly Hills: Women Artists Respond

Earlier today I shared the link to John Currin's new show at Gagosian Gallery on Facebook and asked women artists to respond to the works in this exhibition. I was unable to obtain the gallery's permission to include the images in this blog, but you can view them at the link below:

Below are some of the responses that I received. All are used with the permission of the various commentators. Some comments have been edited in length, and they are not necessarily in the same order in which they were made on my Facebook page.

I hope you will keep this discussion going in the comments section provided by the HuffingtonPost.

- John Seed


Kathleen Speranza: I find his work repulsive on every level. He has contempt for his subjects, for the viewer and ultimately for painting itself. The entire body of work just feels like a big sneer at anything deeply felt or serious.

Elana Hagler: Are they paintings that I want to bring home and treasure? No.

But I am very glad that they exist and are part of the contemporary discussion in representational painting. The enjoyment of the "girls on sheets" genre is still so prevalent and romanticized. I enjoy the kick in the pants that John Currin gives these leering "art enthusiasts" who stroke their beards while commenting on the profound and exquisite nature of a painting of a teenage girl lying on satin sheets, diaphanous garments exposing one alluring breast, with her gaze averted, or better yet, her face partially obscured by hair. Oh, how sublime!

Alia El-Bermani: It is so much harder and IMO more interesting to paint a figure that is more than the sum of its parts, a figure with depth and character. We do not see Currin's figures for more than their sexual allure or availability. They actually make me yawn and to comment more than that on them gives him undue attention.

Leslie Toms: Here we go again. Women as sexual objects to be used and later discarded when they are no longer useful. Dressed up porn?

PE Sharpe: Currin's work does not begin to approximate porn, not in the slightest. His paintings of women are almost virginal in a noli me tangere (touch me not) kind of way.

Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco: I feel these paintings are not about women but about "real" women in the history of paintings, and I appreciate his commentary.

Andrea Fenn: I remember seeing his work at a show many years ago and was struck by his talent and that some of the work echoed Rockwell. His anatomy was 'off' then, as well, but his content was more palatable, if memory serves. I think his anatomical foibles are intentional, and that he does the viewer and himself a disservice by his choice of subject matter and the objectification of women.

Anne Harris: I can't speak to the specific work in this Gagosian show. I'd have to see it in person. My broad opinion about Currin is that he's extremely smart. Every thing he does and says is with absolute calculation. I do think he loves painting and loves the artists whose styles and techniques he borrows--from Rockwell to Dix to Grunewald. He has an eyebrow raised and his tongue in cheek when he selects his imagery, and he may be getting off as well, but I'm fairly certain he's in the same painting heaven we're all in when he puts brush to canvas.

That said, I believe his paintings are fundamentally and strategically about style. He creates a context for himself that allows him the luxury of illusion and old-world technique while still being able to cross the art-world velvet rope.

Reactions to his work as sexist miss the boat--that is, we take the bait when we react this way. It's his intention that we do so. I am an ardent feminist, but I actually think we feminists waste energy when we react to men painting nude women sexily. Men find women sexy. So be it. We only fan the flames by focusing on this, particularly in painting, as we're looking at inventions--not actual women being forced to participate in male fantasies. Let's focus on the appalling gender disparities when it comes to economic and exhibition opportunities for women. It's shocking how large that gap is still and it's a nuts and bolts battle that we can win. Better to beat back work that offends us with our OWN work, which we can make visible by tearing down sexist practices in the art world.

Rebecca Campbell: Anne I completely agree with you that Currin is intelligent and intentional with his choices. I also think he can be technically remarkable. Where I disagree is that I don't think the potential for misogyny in this work is in it's sexual content. It is in the bloodless dumbness of a glassy eye, the dough-throated voicelessness of unmitigated availability, the grotesquely unsympathetic ubiquitously pregnant, the rotten genetics of slack jawed grinning, and the scabby whorishness of paint itself. I also think to separate this work from contempt is to rob it of its power. Just because work is terrifying doesn't mean it isn't fascinating and powerful. Belmer, McCarthy, Balthus, the list could go on and on... artists with big issues and amazing work. I think often the very best work can come out of our brokenness.

Caitlin Karolczak: I like Currin's work and would gladly hang one on my wall and I'm a woman. I do not believe women are dismissive of his work... On a separate note Gagosian Gallery needs to make a better effort to put women artists on their walls instead of just images of women on their walls.

Kate Brown: I actually think they are beautiful, John. "The nude in the convex mirror" is a very current take on the posterior obsessed mass media.

Margaret McCann: Currin is technically brilliant and very funny. He doesn't take Rilke's challenge to "go beneath irony" so there is a levity to the work and it's not moving the way Caravaggio or Freud are but like Manet, his offenses question social mores and actually keep people people talking about sexism.

Lolita Develay: Makes me impatient to paint sexualized women in more than one skin color.

Leslie Brown: Definitely less misogynistic than his earlier works. Finally he is at least portraying women in a bit more realistic sense. As much as he tries to be sensuous in his portrayal it is always oddly, creepy with a bit of peep show, side show voyeurism added for a little titillation.. As a woman who paints women and who (studied with the same figurative master Herbert Olds at Carnegie Mellon) his works always make my stomach turn a bit. He definitely sees women as objects and I truly believe he thinks that the way in which he paints them is beautiful but for me he sees all the parts of us that we prefer to keep to ourselves and likes to somewhat ridicule our imperfections a bit like a boy in junior high. I don't think he at all understands the true sensuousness of a woman and keeps his distance as though he was a fearful of us. He is however masterful in technique though that never seems to be enough for me and his works make me wonder why or how he thinks about women. I feel a little sad for him!

Carrie Able: Currin was at the forefront of a return to figurative art: at the time you would have been hard pressed to find a painting in a NYC gallery let alone a figurative one. I have always loved his work and felt that I understand his view point. New patrons often incorrectly infer from my work that I am a middle aged man before meeting me. As a queer cisgendered female I am acutely aware of how my portrayal of women is never criticized in the same way as male artists. It is indeed possible for a male artist to appreciate women's bodies in a sexual way and still be a feminist.

MJ Bono: I've always believed he really should have been a realistic figurative painter. But he knew there are already many good ones who because of long history will never achieve "fame." Therefore, he decided to do these pseudo porno images to attract attention and become successful. Controversy sells. Critics write about the work. Curators scratch their heads but include in exhibitions to show willing to take chances and be open minded. His paintings are so inauthentic and ridiculous, they make me want to throw up.

Krista Schoening: As a woman: I don't find his work sexy. The objectification he is playing with is nothing new, and I don't find it terribly threatening. The level to which he takes this actually serves to turn objectification itself into a sort of object, drawing the viewers attention to it (in a way that doesn't happen in, for example, a women's magazine). I like Will Cotton better: both play with the objectification of women, but I find Cotton to be more playful.

Tracey M. Kessler: The technical skill and images are enticing. Women and men have been exploited from the beginning of time. As a feminist type women but lover of men, I believe in choice. If I had daughters, I would probably screen these until they were old enough to understand context. There are plenty of women in porn who use their power and strength to teach. When sexuality is exploited, forced or influenced at a young age or children under 18 are taught to use their sexuality to manipulate it becomes a different story.

John Currin
Gagosian Beverly Hills
February 19 - April 11, 2015
456 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Hours: Tue-Sat 10-6