Spring 2006 Talks
John Currin's paintings draw upon a broad range of cultural and art historical influences, from the luminescent paintings of Lucas Cranach and other Renaissance masters, to 1950s popular illustration and contemporary magazine advertisements. His depictions of middle-aged women and pinup nudes in the early 1990s made a provocative splash in an issue-oriented art world that favored progressive video and installation work over more traditional art forms. Since then, Currin has come to be known as one of the most important American artists working today, having ushered in a new era of preeminence for figurative painting. With virtuoso technique, he alternates between Old Master precision and robust mannerist exaggeration, portraying women, men, couples, and suburban genre scenes with invention, humor, nostalgia, and a lively edge of social criticism. The women he portrays are classically elegant but extreme, with awkward or grotesque features, and are sometimes crippled or ill. Often controversial, always engaging, Currin's unsettling and entertaining art continues to elaborate on grace, beauty, eroticism, and kitsch.
Rodney Graham (b.1942, Vancouver, Canada) is often described as a Conceptual artist, but his inventive, genre-hopping body of work suggests a host of equally apt descriptions: showman, comic, singer-songwriter, and intellectual historian, to name a few. Since the late 1970s—when he built a functioning camera obscura in the quiet countryside of his hometown of Abbotsford, British Columbia—Graham has engaged audiences with his deft observations of the intertwined realms of nature, science, philosophy, history, music, cinema and art. He works in a wide array of media, from photography and sculpture to music and text-based works, but since 1997—when he represented Canada at the Venice Biennale with his costume drama Vexation Island, a lighthearted set piece depicting a swashbuckling Sisyphus of sorts—he has become best known for his film and video works. In these short, looped pieces, Graham works quickly, ensnaring the viewer in an unfolding drama in which he plays the hero or underdog—or both. As one of his many parallel activities, Graham has released several pop albums including his recent 2003 album Rock is Hard.
Since the late 1990s, Sarah Sze has become internationally renowned for her delicate and dazzling assemblages of familiar household objects, construction materials, hardware, and assorted everyday things. Her signature sculptural aesthetic has become one of the most iconic in contemporary art today. Working in a manner that could be called space-specific, Sze composes installations and sculptures that dwell in gallery corners, hang on walls, and sometimes even burrow underground or creep out windows. Each work is made of thousands of objects, pieced together with precision and formal ingenuity. Architecture and the city are at the heart of the works, with their intricate geometries, dizzying engineering, recurring patterns, and frequent use of moving parts or running water. Her constructions resemble miniature galaxies, artificial ecosystems, or visionary civilizations in which organization and chaos keep one another in check. Sze’s talk will coincide with the debut of her new commission by the Public Art Fund, an elaborate subterranean installation at Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park.
Public Art Fund Talks are organized by the Public Art Fund in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School.