unaffected observational realism


John Currin’s new show draws a sharp distinction between sex and sexiness. There is more explicit erotic action on view than in any images hitherto by this avid courter of controversy, and there is sexy paintwork to boot. But, instructively, you don’t find both in the same places.

His hard-core images are delivered with a ho-hum perfunctoriness that often enervates his surfaces. But rare and felicitious glimpses into genuine painterly lust for life emerge in his rendering — of all subjects — of crockery. In terms of pictorial energy, his orgies are inert, while his still lifes are animate.

This is his first show with his new (since 2004) dealer, Gagosian, and while it doesn’t have the narrative thrust of some of his earlier shows at Andrea Rosen, it is as forcefully themed as his blue period. There are several scenes of group sex, coyly titled after Northern European cities: “Rotterdam,” “Copenhagen,” “Malmo.” These seem drawn from vintage 1970s porn, judging by the hairdos and ABBA-esque expressions of climax. They are relatively small pictures with a sketchy brushiness that signals urgency and fumble, but such sexiness is delivered in quotation marks, and does not offer actual painterly excitement.

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