Saturday, April 26, 2008

John Currin in Harper's Bazaar? Of Corse-t!


I’m enraptured by many of John Currin’s images. I particularly like the way he layers paint in the style of the “Old Masters,” creating cherubic, glowing faces à la Vermeer or Rembrandt with decidedly postmodern bodies and attitudes.

But Currin can be a challenging sell to mainstream America, so I was surprised to see him included in a dress-up portfolio in the latest Harper’s Bazaar. The cover girl, Julianne Moore, and the photographer, Peter Lindbergh, reproduced various iconic portraits of women—Singer Sargent’s Madame X; Degas’s ballerinas, for example. (BTW, Ballerina Moore reminded me of Zelda Fitzgerald, who took up ballet seriously in her thirties: I admire Moore’s chutzpah, but there was a tinge of Baby Jane [Davis, not Holzer] to these pictures.)

My favorite pairing was Moore as Currin’s provocatively named “Cripple” portrait. The title of the piece recalls for me an essay by Nancy Mairs, “On Being a Cripple,” in which the author, who has lived with MS for a number of years, explains why she calls herself that un-PC term: “as a cripple I swagger,” she writes. The term, she argues, is “brutally honest,” and thus suits her, though she admits that she would never use it to describe anyone other than herself.

In Currin and Moore’s portraits, one’s eye is drawn first to the radiant beauty in each woman’s face, then down the body to her flesh-colored corset, then finally to the surprise of the white cane. The harsh title of the painting seemingly contradicts what the eye sees, and thus calls into question the term itself.

Or is Currin suggesting that a woman can be psychologically crippled by the pressure to conform a societal conception of beautiful, and literally crippled (or deformed) by the physical bondage represented in her corset? What “brutal honesty” is he working with?

In any case, this is perhaps the most edgy photo I’ve ever seen in Harper’s Bazaar. But do the editors know what they’re doing with it?

4 comments:

Thumbelina Fashionista said...

Wow, superb post. I have to say that the Currin portrait is shocking: the woman looks disproportinate, and instead of looking radiant, I think she looks ghastly, almost desperate. Moore looks glamorous, deliberately poised, and somewhat artificial. The cane for Moore seems more of a prop, and the cane for the other woman seems more of a need.

K.Line said...

I actually liked this shoot - but I seem to love everything in Bazaar and everything to do with Ms. Moore...

The Clothes Horse said...

I love all the modern interpretations. Moore looks amazing.

riz said...

I really like the last question you pose...makes me wonder about the handling of art images/artists by magazine editors more gnerally...hmmm.