The Europhile


So here’s the thing about John Currin. Looking at his art is depressing. (image right is “Fishermen” 2002)

Libby and I spent quite some time with the Whitney show. We went through it backwards and forwards, we deconstructed meaning and cozied up to the brushstrokes. We pondered and cogitated and when all was said and done I came away saddened. Here’s a guy who can paint like nobody’s business and he’s angrier than heck, painting up things that are one slap in the face after another.

I’m not saying I need to be kissed by a painting but I don’t like to be shouted at non-stop and I feel like Currin is shouting and slamming doors like a teenager. The work has a badgering quality. It’s the Don Rickles of art. (Not my favorite humor.) (image below is “Rachel as “The Hag” giclee print, ed. 200)


I read the press packet from cover to cover. Larry Rinder, who brought the show to the Whitney (it originated as a collaboration between the the MCA Chicago and Serpentine Gallery, London) seems a little ambivalent. Here’s his wrap-up:

“His work is intentionally challenging, and when most successful, it leaves us less sure of our aesthetic tastes, less comfortable in our social roles, and less secure in our sexual or gender identities. In exchange for these calculated feelings of discomfort and unease, however, Currin provides a host of exceptional images that are visually rewarding, imaginatively fresh, and technically superb.” (image below is “Heartless” 1997)

According to a Currin interview with William Stover I read in press materials (it was excerpted from the publication accompanying the “John Currin Selects” exhibit at the Boston MFA), Currin talks as irascibly as he paints. He’s mad at American painting — and mad that he’s an American. currinHeartless

He feels that European painting aspires to high culture and that American art has always aspired to be democratic — ie not high.

He implies that European art can make masterpieces, but that democratic art (American art) can’t. He wonders if a democratic culture has any use for masterpieces.

He feels there’s something priggish about American art and he says Americans never paint flesh unless it’s tied to the s-e-x subject.

He says “American painting is doomed to be folk art.” By that he means that Americans get caught up looking for authenticity in their art, something he believes Europeans don’t do.


“…authenticity is a worthless value in art, he says.”

He calls Warhol an ironic folk artist…

All I can say is his arguments seem like harping. And as for painting our way to the future I’m not sure Currin’s combination of conservative Europhilia is the way to go. It seems to be digging painting into a big, deep, interesting hole. (image left is Lucas Cranach “Lucretia” 1532)