John Currin’ s works have inspired outrage. Kim Levin, art critic for the Village Voice, encouraged readers to “ boycott” John Currin’ s “ awful paintings” roughly a decade ago; however, the New York art world did the exact opposite. They flocked to Currin’ s show. Incendiary in his seeming disregard of political correctness, Currin’ s work appears to exploit the female nude as object. At first glance, one might view the work as anti-woman, as Currin’ s women were painted to be desired. Yet such an initial examination misses the more profound commentary on the nature of art making and its patriarchal history.
The lush nudes found in works, such as Three Friends, imitate the styles and techniques of “ the old masters” . This too has placed Currin in the line of fire of many critics. Nevertheless, I will argue that Currin’ s multiple references to other works of art function as appropriations that act to check the viewer’ s otherwise unmitigated viewing of the female nude. In referencing the past, Currin places his work in an artistic context, thus continually reminding the viewer of the artifice of the painting and the construction of gender roles.
By examining the myriad of references found in Currin’ s paintings, including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Norman Rockwell, Hans Baldung Grien, and Manet, we can begin to undermine any allegations of misogyny and embrace his work as a potential feminist commentary.
Conner Huber, ’07 Muscatine, IA
Sponsor: Christina McOmber