Maybe its about our ingrained habits of denying what we know, but don’t want to know.What could be termed disavowal. A dark, musty zone between knowing and unknowing. There is nothing sexually overt in John Currin’s paintings, an absence of violence, no meaningful unhappiness, no poverty, sickness or crime.Still, it raises the issue of manufactured content in art, something contrived that negates the art historical tradition, or at best a mocking or teasing of the past. Still, and compellingly, is is a presentation of disavowal in a manner that forces the viewer to question some perplexing contradictions.
As Mathis has stated, “Art is the creation of an artifact that is it’s own argument. It does not need a theory to define it, a critic to contextualize it, or a milieu to give it meaning. A true work of art transcends “relevance.” Artistically speaking, relevance is irrelevant. It comes back to the issue of the phantom depth problem of avant garde modern art.In part, the explanation is our existence in a society addicted to mass distributed innocence and an equal attraction for mass produced sleaze.
…Old Master techniques with raw sexual imagery. By and large its innocuous female nudes. Sort of. Graphic, slightly over the top; almost caricaturial. There is some exploitation of women and some insight into the politics of desire in art. A certain disavowal and a somewhat ironic posture vis a vis the manufacture of innnocence industry. The mixture of high and low culture eats away at art history tradition while showing reverence for it. The association with Norman Rockwell is not incidental, as Currin represents another aspect of latent sexuality tempered by some ironic separation.Rockwell’s paintings do produce an innocent world, and to that degree they are acts of disavowal. But at the same time, under the veil of innocence, they often present potentially disruptive materials that challenges the viewer to see and recognize. Rockwell’s work thus laid bare a certain mechanism of disavowal and what he painted was not innocence itself but its manufacture. The viewer had the ethical choice of seeing or not. Currin’s work also feeds into American culture’s particular addiction to its sense of self and as such is also a great analyst of the American condition.
Currin, like Rockwell, goes back to this notion of American innocence, a mythological animal that can be killed of repeatedly yet magically arise in new and different forms when least expected. Like Rockwell, Currin’s work derives its tension from tapping into some of the disturbing styles of American innocence. His paintings are more shadowy, obscure and complex than most are willing to see. The parallel with Rockwell is that they are not so much innocuous or cheekily innocent as they are about the ways we create innocence, shape it, and present it. After all, innocence is a manufactured commodity not a state we are born to; an illusory story, a fantasy we tell about ourselves and share and not something we really are.
Q You’re famous for basing paintings on porn, but you also use everyday women’s magazines. What do women’s magazines and porn have in common?
A A lot of the pornography I use as sources are from the [1970s] heyday of Cosmo and Playboy. Cosmo was a pretty racy magazine in those years, too. But I was always more interested in women’s magazines than men’s magazines, because they’re more spectacular … and there’s actually more women in them. Ha! There’s more women in those magazines than there are in, like, Playboy. Playboy, you know, half of it’s like Norman Mailer or something….
Q You’ve admitted in past interviews that your paintings are sexist. Why do you continue with them?
A Well, I’m bothered by [the sexist aspect] more now. I didn’t used to be. It shouldn’t bother me, I suppose, because I want to make a good painting, that’s the only thing I care about. And if the painting has sexist imagery, I don’t think that affects the goodness or badness of the painting. But it does affect my emotional state, and it’s started to bother me more and more. Read More:http://arts.nationalpost.com/2011/07/20/qa-painter-john-currin-on-sexism-and-second-thoughts/
Innocence is a choice not to know something, and therefore a lie, since the very choice must be based on some presentiment, some suspicion, some minimal fragments knowledge we have already assimilated. So, innocence is a pretense of ignorance, a pretense that lives and is performed not so much for others as for ourselves. But, innocence can only be manufactured through a process of disavowal. The American condition. From Ronald Reagan’s Its a new morning in America to Obama “Change we can beleive in.”
There is a distinction here between repression, which banishes unwanted knowledge and desires to the unconscious, where they are no longer available to draw on. Disavowal, in opposit
is ingenious since its basis is a division of the self , meaning we simultaneously know and yet are ignorant of something. An ambivalent co-existence between the conscious and unconscious. Ultimately, it substitutes a phony and artificial belief in personal purity for a complicated and trying engagement with the self and the world at large as it really is.
As art, it comes full circle: do what extent do you destroy art history? To make art feed into the propaganda industry you have to kill off part of arts original definition thorough an imperative to create political art and define itself by some form of ideology. Then we have art with non-aesthetic content. The art business, industry, the highest prices and the most press is given over to works that are defined almost entirely by its non-aesthetic content.In other words, socio-politics which tends to disappoint both politically and as art. Does the shock component fail because it fails to shock, to inform, or support or complement a coherent theory of progression. The question with Currin’s art is whether it engages in a mimicry of historical forms by satirizing or mocking or banalizing the poetic myths that gave life to these forms. Is the depth only a phantom?
Art since Modernism art depends on contradiction more than ever. Now that shocks never come easily, neither homage nor parody alone can do the job. They can hardly even cause controversy. Pop Art, Surrealism, and Willem de Kooning nudes, to name only a few, anticipate Currin with a third alternative. Their love-hate relationship to popular culture and the past remains exhilarating. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, or Gerhard Richter have restored beauty and affection to parody, while they smear or utterly erase the traces of their affection….
…At Currin’s retrospective, I never did quite find an answer. I hoped for variations on a theme, but I found instead repeated attempts to pin a theme down. I feel for the self-assertion and the somewhat obvious sense of humor, but I never shared in his awe or laughter. I saw an artist willing both to revere and criticize tradition, but never able to escape the blandness that leaves. Call him the Norman Rockwell of post-feminist art. Maybe it makes sense that one of his biggest supporters at The Times is working on a book about Rockwell….
Like the barmaid in Edouard Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère or her counterpart by Jeff Wall, Currin’s women enact a male’s fantasy but refuse to return his gaze.Read More:http://www.haberarts.com/currin.htm
Q So are you lucky to work in art, where sexual imagery is often accepted, even if it’s creepy?
A Well, I’m not a powerful man. Weiner and that IMF guy — these are the type of guys that are always saying, “Don’t you know who I am?!?” But maybe that’s what I mean — I now have this terrible, nagging feeling that I’m basically pulling a Weiner on people with my paintings or something like that! Ha! But I don’t get a thrill out of startling somebody with sexual imagery. I really don’t. So that is the part that troubles me. It bothered me that my kids couldn’t come to my studio for a couple of years, and it bothered me what my parents would think. I didn’t make those [more sexual or pornographic] paintings in order to shock. It was really because, for whatever weird or normal reason, I was preoccupied with that imagery.
Q So what have you figured out in 20 years about sexual desire, or about beauty?
A Something occurred to me just last week: beauty and happiness often seem to go together, but I don’t think that they do…. Read More:http://arts.nationalpost.com/2011/07/20/qa-painter-john-currin-on-sexism-and-second-thoughts/