More on the John Currin Exhibition

Adam Gopnik has written the first (to my knowledge) negative review in the mainstream press of the John Currin exhibition at the Whitney Museum. It reads more as an “opinion” or “commentary” than a serious work of critical engagement and analysis. By that I mean he not only refuses to take Currin seriously as an artist, but adopts a position of high modernist righteous indignation from which to dogmatically dismiss Currin’s recent work as technically pretentious kitsch. Much of Gopnik’s outrage seems to be stimulated by Currin’s remarks in the catalog essays and in the feature article by Deborah Solomon (now in the NYTimes online archive).

I suggest we not take Currin’s testimony so seriously but try to understand the work and its reception by seeing it in a larger social and historical (not hysterical) context that includes the shopping mall paintings to which Gopnik refers as well as the various strands of American culture that inform them. Or look at the social network known as the “Artworld” (from Yale through Andrea Rosen and all those dinner parties to the Whitney) and map out the lines of influence that explain why Currin is in the limelight rather than “the thousands of other painters and illustrators with the same skills and attitudes and goals”. But perhaps that’s too much to ask of a journalist.

Elsewhere, Peter Plagens interviewed Currin for the recent issue of Newsweek. In that interview, Currin positions himself as a figurative formalist who’s not particularly concerned about social commentary in his work. I guess it follows that he’s not much concerned with narrative either. I suppose he won’t be taking my advice.