Leonardo DiCaprio and Wes Anderson Celebrate Artist John Currin at Gagosian Gallery

Robin Tunney Joseph Shongei Janell Martin - H 2015
Photo by DAVID CROTTY/Patrick McMullan

"One of the rules in making this new work was to accept every tacky, bad American brush stroke in my work," says the painter, whose new show has just opened in Beverly Hills.

As residents of a city blessed with astonishingly consistent weather, it can be difficult for Angelenos to tell what time of year it is. Every year though, Larry Gagosian's late-winter exhibit in Beverly Hills lets the art community know it is Oscar time. The Oscar-week Gagosian opening is one of these moments for the art community. Each year, Larry Gagosian himself curates his longstanding Oscar week show to open days before the Academy Awards presentation, selecting a chosen one within the herd for the high-altar exhibition moment. This year, the sacrificial tribute calves were on the lascivious legs of John Currin’s dynamic and complex new paintings.

Celebrities never fail to make a grand showing at this annual event, and this year, the stars in attendance included Harvey KeitelLeonardo DiCaprioJohn McEnroeElton JohnMick Jagger and filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson, whose film The Grand Budapest Hotel has received nine Oscar nominations, told The Hollywood Reporter he's a big fan of Currin's work.

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Currin feels the same way about the director in a conversation earlier in the day in which he recognized the influences of film-makers like Anderson and others.

Prior to the opening, the artist walked through the exhibition of his new work with curator Aaron Moulton. Currin confessed that he no longer relishes the opportunity to shock the audience with his work. The new work is certainly less confrontational than previous bodies of work drawn from Danish pornography. It is clear that the painter is engaged in a more personal investigation of his changing relationship with art history. Currin makes bold compositional moves as figures from seemingly different worlds intersect. In a standout new work, a copulating couple is rendered in a red-tinted monochrome that flattens the figures as though seen on a screen or painted on a wall. The particulars of their sexual engagement are entirely concealed by a buxom young woman holding a wine glass before them. The woman is finely rendered in the deft Old Master technique for which Currin has become known. She smiles as she nearly busts out of her blouse, seemingly oblivious to the creepy old man getting busy behind her. Other new works are reminiscent of the artist's previous work, but seem to have a new, more demure figuration overlaid, which allows for a slower, more meditative appreciation.

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For such an accomplished craftsman, Currin was remarkably self-effacing about his work in relation to painters before him. In the artist’s words: “Part of the liberating thing about making some of these figures over the porn was to accept the sort of crappy way that I paint compared to somebody from the eighteenth century. I find myself sometimes with this little voice just belittling myself, like, ‘God, you screwed this up. You can’t do anything!’ — just yelling at myself. So one of the rules in making this new work was to accept every tacky, bad American brush stroke in my work. And I found that once I accepted them, it allowed me to sort of love everything — like my child, faults and everything — and that is partly not holding myself up to the standards of Georges de la Tour or someone like that. And it would be an absurd thing — you couldn’t. I have to say that this movie Tim’s Vermeer I found to be absolutely moving and wonderful. I found that astonishing, and it kind of changed my attitude toward the way I hold on."

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When asked about other filmmakers who might play a role in his artistic process, Currin shared the following with THR: “I do like the way that David Fincher’s movies look. That dark grey I find just beautiful to watch. So that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”  He went on to say, “What I love in Wes Anderson’s movies is the feeling that there is a curtain that goes up before every shot — the way filmmakers like him conceive of their work as a tableaux.  And in the camp movie [Moonrise Kingdom] — you see these lovely shots where the camera will move parallel to the subject matter. Anderson’s films are almost like classical [Jacques-Louis] David paintings — like The Oath of the Horatii. In a way, the first movies I really liked were the early L.A. noir films."

The Hammer Museum hosted a reception for members the same night as Currin’s opening at Gagosian.  The museum celebrated the opening of a new exhibition Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio, as well as the installation of the new John V. Tunney bridge, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, which spans the atrium to better connect the upper galleries. A strong crowd of members and patrons came out on Thursday night and enjoyed a number of current exhibitions, including Charles Gaines: Gridwork and Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to NowNotable attendees at the reception included collector Jeffrey Soros, actress Lisa Edelstein, CAA's Thao Nguyen, gallerist Michael Kohn and artists Mark Bradford and Sam Falls.

The John Currin exhibition at Gagosian runs through April 11 and the current exhibitions at the Hammer Museum are on view until May 24th.