John Currin Exhibit

by Vittorio Carli

“John Currin” review by Vittorio Carli (originally published in The Star newspapers in 2002)

"John Currin,” the new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, features the work of one of the most celebrated artists of the 1990's. This is Currin's first ever-solo exhibit and it contains 40 of his works, all painted between 1991 and the present.

His work had both been overpraised and bitterly attacked. One Yale art professor made the absurd claim that he was the equal of Botticelli while a Chicago Tribune art critic charged he was a tasteless purveyor of trash culture.

His work is somewhere in between. His pieces are consistently thought provoking and skilful, but not as accomplished, elegant, or sublime as pieces by the Italian Renaissance masters.

Currin’s work attempts to capture the best of both worlds. He has some of the dazzling technique of the Renaissance painters. His work also includes the irony and self-referential cultural commentary of post-modern artists.

Some of his subjects are traditional and others also come from comic books, soft-core porn and advertising.

Some of his works champion marginalized people that you don’t often see in paintings such as senior citizens and the differently abled. He often combines newer and older themes in shocking and disturbing ways.

Currin likes to take classical subjects and gives them a modern twist. For instance, he drew a beautiful young female nude that looks young and he put the head of "Golden Girl" star, Bea Arthur on the torso. It’s almost as if he is winking at the audience. His work often mocks or deconstructs itself.

In "Heartless," he draws a longhaired young woman, which seems to be the epitome of innocence and virtue. But he adds a heart shaped hole in her clothing where the missing organ should be to indicate she lacks compassion.

Curran's paintings succeed in two ways. They are pleasing to the eye, yet they also raise questions about the way that artists present certain subjects, particularly women. His works are juvenile, sophisticated, trashy, and serious all at the same time.

The "John Currin" exhibit is definitely worth a look.


What: John Currin exhibit
Where: The Museum of Contemporary Art at 220 East Chicago
When: runs until August 24
Tickets: Tuesdays are free; admission is $10:00, $6:00 for senior citizens and students
Phone: 312-280-2660

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Photography by Vittorio Carli