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February 15, 2004

John Currin at the Whitney

I will have more time to reflect on everything I saw at AIPAD and to talk about photography generally tomorrow...but in the meantime, I wanted to make note of my quick visit to the Whitney Museum while in New York, where I got to view the much hyped retrospective of John Currin paintings...and I have to say that I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. There have been some wildly enthusiastic reviews -- and some carping about lack of substance and depth. In fact, the discussion can be almost as much fun to partake in as the actual paintings. Currin does seem to me to skim across a variety of approaches and themes in his painting, tweaking and provoking along the way, making him seem shallow to his detractors and not worthy of the hype.

While I'm no fan of precious postmodern slumming myself, Currin's wit, clever appropriation of influences from high art and popular culture, and sense of irony, along with his painting technique certainly seemed entertaining and thoughtful and funny and provocative in mostly the right mix. As someone who enjoys fashion photography, I have to say that I find his appropriation of fashion expressions and tics in his paintings as clever (in a good way), and his fashion pinup series in particular was one of my favorite parts of his retrospective.

Anyway, I'm no authority on painting, but I've enjoyed the fuss generated by this Whitney exhibition, and I'd encourage people to drop by and judge for themselves, rather than rely on the firestorm of opinion from multiple camps...the paintings do look good, even if they don't end up being your cup of tea. The best things I've read on the exhibition have been Michael Kimmelman's cautiously enthusiastic review in the New York Times, a slightly contrarian correction to the enthusiasm by the Village Voice, and even this slide show from Slate (which is much more thoughtful than Karen Lehrman's hopeless piece on fashion photography that I took issue with a while back).

Note that though the detractors would like to point to the articles in Slate and the Voice as being less positive about Currin, in fact, just about everyone acknowledges Currin's likeability and technique and sense of detail...it's more a question of how deep it all is in the end. Jerry Saltz in the Voice makes the best observation about what makes him interesting to a photographer and popular culture media junkie like me:

"My favorite things about him are the high level of specificity in his work, how he engages a wide audience, and the original way he uses photographic sources while shunning photographic space"

Arthur Danto, the excellent art critic for the Nation, also has written a long and thoughtful, if rather enthusiastic piece (one of his favorite Currin paintings, Stamford after Brunch, is one of my least favorite), but unfortunately, it currently is available to subscribers only. It may be available on the Nation's web site in a few weeks, though.


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Skinny Woman, 1992

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Comments

I didn't know anything about John Currin until I saw a show that he *curated* at the MFA in Boston last year. The painting you've selected is one of my favorites... and I'm planning to visit the Whitney show! Funny also how he seems to appeal to a photographer's mentality... Brunch in Stamford is also one of my least favorites... perhaps it's because I've HAD brunch in Stamford ;-)

Posted by: Andrew Miller at Feb 16, 2004 2:02:35 PM

thank you for giving me the push to go to this exhibit... this is absolutly wonderful!

Posted by: teesh at Feb 17, 2004 10:17:50 PM

I am hoping that John Currin's Stamford After-Brunch is available as a print. Can you help me with this? Can I email Mr. Currin directly? thanks for your time, Regards, Livia

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