Around 1998, John Currin began his rise to the top of every collector's wish list and commenced his descent into slick, fussy, quasi–Northern Renaissance academicism. Before this, Currin's work had come on strong, strange, and comedic, like a roomful of clowns. His art was double-edged, freakish, annoying, and endearing—the painterly equivalent of the "feel-bad" comedy of Larry David. By the late '90s, aware perhaps that he was in danger of becoming a "period artist," Currin used traditional ideas about painterly skill to get beyond shtick. This opened his work up to wide audiences and helped establish him as perhaps the signature American realist of today. But this skill soon devolved into shtick. Currin's surfaces died, as did the conversation around his work, which came to revolve almost entirely around technical issues. Even he admitted, "I'm conservative," and fretted, "Maybe I'm just an academic realist." Currin's work was too specific, perverse, mannered, and complex to be dismissed as only these things. But it seemed that after 1998, Currin's inner contrarian had... More >>>