I guess it was inevitable, but John Currin has finally produced a series of awful paintings, on view at Gagosian Gallery's Madison Avenue space. He has discarded the edgy bentness of his best work and landed in a silken bog of his own kitschiness.
At first, I asked myself, "Naked women of all ages, sometimes touching each other in soft places, what's not to like?" Then I was reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald's juvenile character Basil Duke Lee, unwrapping his cherished posters of Gibson girls in his boarding school dorm room in 1911. First, he puts up one girl in a sailor suit, then takes it down and replaces her with a winsome lass in a bicycle motif, slowly ripping up the first one, because "she" wasn't perfect enough to conform to his particular one-dimensional fantasy.
So, it is with the new Currins: the older, zaftig woman in The Old Fur might as well be the babe in the black nightie or one of the three nudes a-fingerin' each other or the blockbusted woman in a negligee who verges on being a Botero.
Here one arrives at another problem; the artists whose styles Currin is cribbing peak through a tad too readily in the new work and they are invariably kitschy: Botero, Hogarth, Norman Rockwell and Frans Hals. The broad beam and lack of subtlety which marks these as, essentially, second-rate artists is all over these third-rate Currins. What has made Currin tolerable, even enlightening in the past is his warped sense of humor, whether it be turning his small son into an old man in one painting or watching his female relatives eroticize a Thanksgiving turkey.
Absent this fey perspective, Currin is reduced to kitsch, a vast puddle of amorphous flesh too finely draped in pointless luxury, a trope which may fit his new luxurioso collector cohort, but is way too low on the taste scale for past fans of Currin's weirdo perspective like myself.
John Currin, "New Paintings," Nov. 4-Dec. 23, 2010, at Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10075
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).