Cranach, The Judgement of Paris, 1528, tempera and oil on wood,
Museum of Art, New York. c. 1530
Currin, 'Three Friends' 1998
by Rachel Le Goff
we had Odd Nerdrum reviving the technique and style of Rembrandt now we
have John Currin hitting on Cranach and Durer. Are they aspiring to
paint like their old master heroes, or have they just decided to rely on
tried and tested formulas for artistic success? Currin has obviously
understood the magnetic appeal that German renaissance nudes emanate with
their pristine alabaster bodies and blondness. These rosy maidens were
the Varga pin-up girls of their day, remote and unattainable to the
viewer. Cranach was painting an ideal of beauty formulated by the tastes
of early sixteenth century Northern Europe. That these cannons of
beauty are little changed five centuries later is interesting. Currin has
glorified the smooth cheeked wholesome beauty of w.a.s.p. girls by paralleling
them to the models in celebrated paintings of Cranach's era. Imagine
the heads of Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gwyneth Paltrow placed
on Cranach's bodies, coaxed into a mixture of poses quoting from both
renaissance standards and contemporary manners and you have Currin's formula.
Hollywood meets the Court of Frederick III. Whilst his 'Three
Friends' is a remake of the classical 'Three Graces' composition inspired
from antique sculpture his 'The Go-See' is a strangely informal/formal
arrangement of two young women seemingly sharing a joke. Currin's models
are often smiling as girls do when self-consciously caught by the camera,
this feature serves to distance them from their renaissance prototypes.
also plays at varying the anatomy of his contemporary models elongating
the breasts and broadening shoulders to lend them an individuality not
aspired to by Cranach or Durer or their contemporaries like Hans Baldung
Grien. Erasing their overall believability however is a kind of plastic
surreal quality that makes them cousins to the wide-eyed mannequins
of Dinos and Jake Chapman and Charles Ray.
Currin is trying to put across a powerful message about timeless beauty
and women's place in history as objects of desire or whether he is just
making whimsical attractive paintings that sell well is hard to discern.
In Cranach's time, each painting had a literary source whether scriptural,
allegorical or mythological in subject. Enormous symbolism was embodied
by every naked figure he painted. My guess is that Currin is just using
the visual vocabulary of the German sixteenth century masters to add a
quirky twist to his female nude and the contemporary faces that smile from
his canvas make that old master world less forbidding, less intellectual
for his modern audience.
any auction house crony what always sells well and he will tell you "naked
women and flowers".
question with Currin is, the running distance of his popularity. There
are only so many museum catalogues he can flick through to borrow poses
from German old masters, he will have to move on to Flemish Mannerism or
French nineteenth century Pompier painters to renew his stock.
Thurman and the Girl-Next-Door?
Currin 'The Go-See', 1999 oil on canvas 111 x 86cm Andrea Rosen Gallery,
Currin, The Veil, 1999 oil on canvas, 111 x 81cm Andrea Rosen
Gallery, New York