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John Currin
The Bra Shop
1997
in "John Currin"
at the Whitney Museum
Nov. 20, 2003-Feb. 22, 2004



Buffet
1999



Rachel Feinstein
Crucifixion
2003



John Currin and Rachel Feinstein
Photo Mary Barone
Defending John Currin
by Charlie Finch


Our friend and colleague Richard Polsky could not be more wrong in his assessment, on Artnet, of John Currin [see "Art Market Guide," Oct. 22, 2003]. In fact, Polksy's tepid "hold" recommendation illustrates many of the prejudices towards the current generation of living artists which we tried to delineate in our recent Artnet piece, Reforming the Auction Market.

Currin is that rare and special brand of artist from whom each individual piece incites a special lust from each individual collector; in his generation, he is matched solely in this regard by Elizabeth Peyton.

When we viewed the collection of art connoisseur Ranbir Singh last spring, an ancient Currin, simply depicting a drum major's hat with a seductive pelt of white fur leering above its brim, powerfully brought home the distinct appeal of each Currin to its particular possessor. This is why Currins of all varieties remain, even at $400 grand, substantially undervalued: their sly, subversiveness is irresistible.

We remember how one remarkable Currin piece struck us, in this manner, at Andrea Rosen's old SoHo space, almost a decade ago.

This was Currin's series about a Swiss lust muffin and one painting depicted the lass at the bottom of a clothed stack that seemed to be her family.

The not-so-clear implication was that members of the gang, each enveloped in a dreamy smile, were buggering each other.

But so many unique attributes, redolent of the history of painting east and west, stand out in John Currin's work. Currin is conservative in the best sense of the world: he seeks to perceive what is authentic within the purview of his bent vision, and what is authentic to Currin is the unclassifiability of desire and the conviction that all life is essentially erotic.

Other than Currin's stated template, Lucius Cranach the Elder, the piece that best approximates Currin's enduring genius is Vermeer's Girl in the Red Hat, in which the attenuated red fur of the hat begs to be taken sexually, with permission from its wearer's smile.

This sensuous aspect of Currin's work drives the politically correct art elite nuts, much as his limpid palette, so reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud, leads to accusations that John can't paint.

Nuts to that -- if ever there were a collector's artist ripe for Sotheby's, it is Currin. We advise not only buying his new work, seeking to deal his old work, and even tracking down early Currin gems from his Yale days, we also advise snapping up the work of his ex-muse and current wife, Rachel Feinstein, who is as profound an innovator in the sculptural realm as her husband is in painting.

Feinstein's extraordinary crucifixion scene, exhibited at Friedrich Petzel Gallery (on loan from Marianne Boesky Gallery), was easily the greatest piece created and shown last season in Chelsea.

The pictures in Vogue, the attendant glitz, the prejudices of myopic baby-boomer auction experts easily obscure two welcome facts: that Rachel Feinstein and John Currin are the first truly equal art couple since O'Keeffe and Stieglitz, and that John Currin has already surpassed Rosenquist, Indiana, Wesselmann, Thiebaud, Diebenkorn and others in auction-market desirability.

Don't "hold," baby, buy!


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).