Friday, October 05, 2018


Celebrity artist John Currin proclaimed, "Culture is for old people. When you're young you have your body and that's all you need."  This philosophy might help explain why Currin remains a jejeune confectioner of synthetic nudes:

Currin is a darling of the Manhattan art market but despite his "fine art" pretensions, his superficial treatments of the human figure aren't much different from the empty work of artists such as Vargas or Olivia, or the fanboys who clutter the internet with drawings of nude Princess Leia or nude Wonder Woman.  These images reveal nothing; they simply reaffirm, in an obvious way, what is already way too obvious about you (yes, you).

For a deeper dive, check out the drawings of Claes Oldenburg, an artist whose nudes reveal a more interesting nervous system:

Claes Oldenberg (1954).

Oldenberg knows how to draw weight on these nude dancers, yet he removes the consequences of their weight so they can fling their ballast around in defiance of gravity, like the dancing hippos from Fantasia.

I love the figures above; they have the primal feeling of the Venus of Lespugue and a humanity and sexuality that makes Currin's candy coated figures look sick.


al mcluckie said...

Currin - talk about sterile , Boris and B.Hogarth just came up a notch !

Have you seen Costa Dvorezky's work ?

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

Currin has, by being flippant, made a profound point seem dumb. But it shouldn't be so blithely dismissed just because he botched it.

The life of the mind and culture-vulturing is never a first choice as a mode of being; it is unnatural and, if engaged too early, it retards development in many ways. There is profound unnaturalness in youthful immersion in a world of second hand symbolic mediation. Psychology would flag such a situation up as an error in rearing; an indoctrination in discouragement; training in passivity rather than encouragment in personal agency. Which only leads to frustration, further escape into symbolism and mediation, and maybe often into decadence.

Our sense of truth comes from healthy engagement with the world through the body; such existential interaction is the main reservoir of our essential poetic models for metaphor and understanding. We can't get that cybernetic connection to reality as a mind floating in a skull reasoning out our models of the world; that is the route to solipsism and a sense of the world as comprised of conventionalized game pieces, easily manipulable.

The pragmatic feedback of real experience is what forges a healthy mind, a healthy mind-body unity, and a healthy mind-body-world relationship. And this is what allows us to forcefully sense real quality in art, the deeper aesthetics of love, caring, and truthful relationships and correspondences. As opposed to the picayune sensibility that finds itself drawn to the literalism of descriptors, lines, and surfaces; wit over wisdom, or mere sensationalism.

This also goes to why so many instinctively suspect the theories of someone who's been a nerd, dweeb, dork, 'intellectual', or culturista all their life. Untested thoughts are dangerous. Which is why the wise wisely would rather entrust power to a bully who has learned the error of his ways through experience, than a brilliant introvert who has never had the experience of true soul-shaking responsibility; the shame of making errors or misuing power to negatively impact an innocent person's life.

Of course, none of this is an excuse for producing crap, or pretending that slick and shallow "pretty girl" art is deep or important.

Al McLuckie... I'm with you on Dvorezky. He has a very distinctive way with form which I think is great and unique.

kev ferrara said...

By the way, this week's New York Times Magazine has a very telling article that forcefully expresses, as much consciously as unconsciously, the bizarre cultural zeitgeist the herd of "fashionable postmodern progressives" have been fomenting since the 1960s. It also contains a great new phrase (that may become as handy as virtue signaling) which I've never heard before, "moral typo."

Robert Cook said...

Jeezus! Currin is getting worse! I last saw paintings of his 8 or 10 years ago in an exhibit on Staten Island, (a show on contemporary treatments of the human figure), and, though I didn't like him then, either, he at least seemed to be trying to put texture and solidity to his annoying and snide figures. This looks like he dashed it off over lunch...and was applying most of his attention to his lunch!

al mcluckie said...

Kev - I stumbled across Dvorezky years ago - the way he puts down a highlight/accent on a dimpled area , maybe got that from Fechin .

Not to sidetrack , have you seen Pavel Ryzhenko ? I could see Pyle and H.Dunn smiling with a nod at his work .


kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

Hi Al,

I have seen Ryzhenko. I was amazed that he was a contemporary artist. He very much looks like a 19th century Russian salon painter or student under Repin, Surikov or Lebedev. I was horrified that he died in 2015, given his extreme talent and dedication.

For me, an even more incredible contemporary Russian painter is Dmitri Belyukin. In particular his "White Russia in Exile." (Link below) I see him as one of the top painters in the world, and nobody seems to be aware of him.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- I had seen Costa Dvorezky's work before, and while I generally liked it, the few pieces I saw struck me as derivative of Phil Hale's work: semi-nude figures caught mid-air in dynamic poses, realistically modeled against a flat, brightly colored background. But after reading your comment I went back and took a deeper look. I agree he does good work and is worth further attention.

Kev Ferrara-- I don't disagree about the primary role of our physical self. I don't disagree with your points about the mind-body relationship. And I'd be a fool to deny that the body's menu has many delectable desserts not offered by the life of the mind.

Along these lines, Bernard Wolfe wrote a long, dandy piece on how unsatisfying art and erudition can be when compared to the oceanic feeling of sex: "Those aspects of sex that can be put into words are the ones least worth talking about... I've never read a description of an orgasm in a novel that didn't seem entirely a literary exercise, rather than an adequate description of a truly felt experience. That's not what words are for. That's not what the oceanic feeling is for, either. You reach for the oceanic to get the hell away from words for a while, to dodge the chatter."

However, I think Currin's philosophy ("Culture is for old people. When you're young you have your body and that's all you need") wrongly suggests that youthful achievement can be measured by how frequently we can masturbate. Adolescent boys always believe that for a few years (not because they "have their body" but because their body has them) but hopefully they will not take too long to recognize that their orgasms can be enhanced and prolonged by becoming a broader, more profound person. Currin's small truth fits very well into a youth-worshiping, self-indulgent society; its validity is confirmed by the amounts that wealthy adults are willing to pay for his shallow soft core porn, while avoiding art that might broaden their perspectives.

Thanks for the cite to the Wesley Morris article; I confess I would have abandoned it after page 2 (when he explains that the "animating crisis" of the previous era was sex and the "animating crisis" of our era is power) but on your recommendation I slogged all the way through. Apart from his lively and appalling reminders of our recent cultural folly, the article seemed awfully dense (perhaps because I never watched most of the TV shows he discusses or perhaps because I'd never encountered such a finely calibrated micrometer applied to sub-categories of uninteresting cultural activity.) I did think the opening photo illustration by Tracy Ma was extremely effective, as much about the article as about its subjects.

Robert Cook--In fairness to Currin, I don't know which paintings are the most recent. I just wanted an example that wasn't too sexually explicit so I didn't get banned from blogger. For a while, it seemd like Currin was competing with Jeff Koons' "Made in Heaven" series.


kev ferrara said...

(Currin's quote)"Culture is for old people. When you're young you have your body and that's all you need" wrongly suggests that youthful achievement can be measured by how frequently we can masturbate.

I strongly disagree with that skinterpretation, although I don't have the context for the quote.

I think truly living in the body, being present in the physical world and as a physical being is way more than monkey rubbing until you spurt a big dopamine bolus into your brainpan. Heroin can do that too, after all. What about good clean fun, as they say? What about sport? What about hiking? What about the ability to jump up in the morning and run flat out for four miles? What about being able to swim off the coast during a thundershower? What about that everything is so easy to do because energy is boundless. And when energy is boundless, possibility is too. The joys of having a physique, of being fit and present are about living in a body that feels good all the time.

That Wesley Morris article belongs in a time capsule for what the intense Maoism of political correctness is doing to fashionable intellectuals who want to be seen as moral in the current PC zeitgeist. I also almost stopped reading, but became fascinated by the poor fellow's plight, having to live in this kind of puritanical mental and social milieu where any scant dissent from an ever changing orthodoxy can mean social doom. Morris is dying to have a free moment to just live and be and appreciate without the political entering into it. He's been straightjacketed by insane people.

al mcluckie said...

David , I'd love to know if Dvorezky and Hale know of each other or had a concurrent evolution . Don't know if this is the last entry but you may not have noticed - Frazetta tends to depict women with big rumps in contrast to Mckinnis .

Kev , thanks for the referral -amazing work . An image of a mirror made me think of Garcia Lopez . I had the same reaction to Ryzhenko , presuming he was from an earlier period .

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I don't have the context for Currin's quote either, but since I've never seen an interview of Currin that didn't dwell on the sexual nature of his nudes, I just assumed his comment was in that vein. I've never heard of Currin being excited by the physical pleasures of hiking or athletics in lower Manhattan but you are correct, it's possible.

I also agree that "being present in the physical world and as a physical being" can be "way more than monkey rubbing." However, I suspect that most of the youth of America who exult in "the ability to jump up in the morning and run flat out for four miles" are playing video games, where pasty faced kids with concave chests and unhealthy eating habits heroically race four miles across the battlefield of Zongor Grnth with a heavy battle axe to do battle with the Glorb of Whazinga. Perhaps Currin should have said "good health" rather than "youth." The two are not synonymous. And of course, "physical pleasures" also include smoking dope, sniffing glue, pedicures, and beating up a weaker person in an alley.

My gripe with Currin's quote is his rather immature bifurcation of mind and body, his lack of appreciation for how one enhances the other, his obeisance to America's culture of youth and the notion that your body is "all you need" in your youth. It's a catchy phrase, but as a philosophy I think it quickly leads to puerile art for puerile audiences.

Al McLuckie-- yes, I err... have noticed Frazetta's affection for women with big rumps. I once wrote something about how Frazetta liked to paint "great asses" and received some blistering responses from women angered by the "rampant sexism" inherent in my use of the phrase, "great asses." Or as one commenter wrote, "Thanks for starting an insightful post about artists and their work environment and ruining it with a reminder that women aren’t really people, just tits and asses for your delectation." I didn't think that's what I was doing but some certainly construed it that way. I think I'll wait a little while longer before writing about Frazetta's rumps again. But I'd certainly welcome anything you had to say on the subject.

Robert Cook said...

What did the complainant think Frazetta's work is about, if not tits, ass, and sex?

(Actually, Frazetta was a much more versatile and professional illustrator than those familiar only with his Conan and post-Conan work might know. He did quite a few movie poster illustrations that were quite delightful, with wonderful caricatures of the movies' stars.)

Richard said...

Currin's pictures didn't get a fair shake from that one nudie.

He's got some other tricks
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And what's so wrong with a lil eros?

Western Academic / Art Establishment culture could use with a bit of simple feminine eros, everyone is so damn busy complaining about Me Too's and Safe Spaces from male microaggressions by way of penetrating sexist glances and assumed genders... I'm happy to have a bro painting some classical boobies which haven't had all the sex flattened out of them

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And his drapery is on point. He's a cool dude and y'all mean.