The New York Observer uses the Andrea Rosen gallery show of John Currin’s works on paper to talk about the transformation of his critical reputation from misogynist to mannerist:
His work is now more lauded for its tireless references to art history—from the Old Masters to 1950s pinups—than derided for any misogynistic undertones. By now, even Ms. Levin is on board, having reversed herself on the occasion of his 2003 retrospective. “Our premier mannerist,” she called him, and “the most profound observer of the follies, foibles, and deformations of our shallow times.” So thorough was Mr. Currin’s success by 2003 that she had to exaggerate the self-evidence of her “Boycott this show” error: “I was wrong, of course.”
This new selection of drawings concentrates on the ’90s and has no work from after the retrospective; the show culminates in five studies for Currin’s 2003 masterpiece, Thanksgiving. Indeed, the works on paper are overwhelmingly directly related, and subordinate, to Mr. Currin’s paintings. This is one way in which he’s indisputably more an Old Master than a contemporary artist; perhaps he’s also a canny businessman, loath to glut the secondary market with stand-alone drawings when the paintings are the real draw.
The show contains memorable drawings of the two extraordinary images Mr. Currin has created: an ineffably sad, beautiful picture of a girl gesturing to her shirt, which has a large heart-shaped cutout; and Thanksgiving, an end-of-empire trio of emaciated women, the center figure with her mouth gaping open, ready to receive a piece of uncooked turkey offered by one of the others. The drawings don’t add appreciably to our understanding of his work or practice, but, with softer lines and gentler, sketchier imagery than the sometimes hyperrealistic paintings, they do participate in a general smoothing-over of Mr. Currin’s reputation that might make him easier to take for some collectors. As the catalog for Sotheby’s November 2008 contemporary art auction stated, “[Currin’s] paintings are less about socio-political commentary and more about the beauty and form of the female body.” Far from the artist you boycott, he’s now the one you go home with.
Drawings of a New “Old Master” (NY Observer)