Lot 393: John Currin (b. 1962)

Christie's

November 11, 2010, 12:00 AM EST
New York, NY, US
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Description: John Currin (b. 1962)
Nadine Gordimer
signed and dated 'John Currin 92' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 x 32 in. (91.4 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1992.
Exhibited: New York, Andrea Rosen Gallery, John Currin, March-May 1992.
Antwerp, Ado Gallery, Critical Distance: John Currin, August-September 1993, p. 12 (illustrated in color).
Limoges, Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain du Limousin and London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, John Currin: Les Coopérateurs, July 1995-February 1996, p. 32 (illustrated in color).
New York, Max Protetch Gallery, From Here to Eternity: Painting in 1998, July-August 1998.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and Los Angeles, University of California, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Examining Pictures: Exhibiting Paintings, May 1999-April 2000, p. 72 (illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; London, Serpentine Gallery and New York, Whitney Museum of Art, John Currin, May 2003-February 2004, p. 35 (illustrated in color).
Literature: P. Schjeldahl, "Irresistible: John Currin at the Whitney," The New Yorker, 15 December 2003, p. 105.
K. Bolonik, "Radiation, Race and Molly Bloom: Nadine Gordimer Talks with Bookforum," Bookforum, February-March 2006, p. 50 (illustrated in color).
K. Vander Weg and R. Dergan, eds., John Currin, New York, 2006, pp. 88-89 (illustrated in color).
Provenance: Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Notes: Wise and dignified, Nadine Gordimer mesmerizes the viewer with her gaze from her seat in Currin's canvas. Born to Jewish immigrants outside of Johannesburg in the early 1920's, Gordimer intimately observed the turmoil of apartheid which enveloped South Africa as she grew up. Her writing is often heralded as the moral compass of her nation, dealing with the cusp of racial issues while allowing her readers to imagine what life could be like beyond apartheid. These moral leanings in her life and writings lead her to become a central figure in the fight for justice, working closely with Nelson Mandela. Her portrait breaks free from the celebration of the body typical in Currin's portraiture and firmly becomes a celebration the sitter's intellect.

Presented in his typical Mannerist proportions, Nadine Gordimer forces our attention on her mind rather than body. One of Currin's few subjects to directly meet our gaze, she holds our attention, creating a bond between her and the viewer. The muted and earthy palette that surrounds her enhances the personal and comforting aura of the painting. Currin's portrait of Gordimer comes during his period of fascination with older women, often using formal complexities to straddle the line between caricature and documentary, of age and grace. However, Nadine deflects this peril, with Currin deftly giving her a poised air that is uniquely hers. Echoes of Picassos celebrated portrait of Gertrude Stein are reflected in both the palette and respect for the subject. Like Picasso painted Stein as we would see her, a literary giant, Currin painted Gordimer as we do see her, an important and influential Nobel Laureate.

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