John Currin is without doubt, the most coveted figurative painter alive, with a work Nice ‘n Easy , part of his series of works which reference and dance with Cranach, Baldung, or even the mannerism of El Greco, achieving $12,000,000 at the Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary sale last month. But Currin has his work cut out for him, and his artistic practice and engagement will be now, tested.
For decades, the painter has made witty, eyebrow-cocking work of the American Romance – and his current show at Sadie Coles is an ongoing giggle at the brain-freeze, the fishiness and the card-tricks at play in contemporary American life. But what now? Currin is no doubt watching his city languish in the crippling unfunniness of Trump - his undiplomatic trolling, his thin-skinned twitter habits and a personality and character flaws that, in truth, makes a large amount of Currin’s oeuvre seem part of the problem, rather than an artist’s puckish satire. Will we now see Currin change tack? Would the American life of 2017 force him to wield the brush for justice rather than jest?
I would love to see a Guston-esque late period of caricaturist finger pointing [see Hauser & Wirth’s show of Guston – Laughter in the Dark]. Currin must act his age or at least demonstrate he’s got some bang to go with his buck. In my eyes, if he chooses to produce paintings of subversive beauty, with fine silks and cloth, rolling over ample breasts and cutesy faces, it will be a denial and a failure of his work that has served so disturbing and funny a critique of the American middle-classes.