Dec 8, 2006

"Often not thinking about sex" [LINK]

Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice reviews John Currin's offerings at the Gagosian Gallery, which shows through December 22:

Purple Bra, like the better Dane, a painting of a clothed woman peering at another woman's naked crotch, and Tollbrook, an even weirder picture of a woman with her underpants around her knees as she looks down to her genitals and some still life at her feet, makes you realize that nowadays you're often not thinking about sex in front of images of sex. Currin's new canvases are devices that allow him to experiment with the physicality of his work and explore the natural fissure that exists within his art between radicality and conventionality, humor and creepiness, anger and affection, conviction and towering ambivalence.

Gezelling is similar to Purple Bra, but more complicated. A naked woman reads an untitled book in bed, her vulva on full display. Even though you enter the painting through the vagina, as it were, thoughts of titillation and sexism give way to the realization that this picture is not just about lasciviousness and voyeurism but about the woman having an inner life separate from your gaze. Complicating matters even more, Gezelling is composed so that you can look away from the genitals to the breasts, the face, and the blank book. Rotterdam, a scene of a man and a woman having sex, is the most hardcore image on hand. Here, Currin tries to do what porn and Picasso do: show all the body parts at once, including something that's often missing in paintings done by heterosexual men for other heterosexual men: an erection. Currin does this with liberal touches of Penthouse, Picabia, parody, humiliation, Norman Rockwell, the piercing male gaze, and what might be called the sidelong female glance.

As blatant as Rotterdam is, however, everything in the painting is deferred and formal. This is pornography as still life and still life as catalog. The "money shot" is the pearl dangling suggestively from the girl's lace gloves; the lace stands in for pubic hair; the pink of the undone garter belt is an outside rendition of the girl's parted labia.

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