A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Couple

Photo: Lee Clower for The New York Times

I had an entirely different post planned for today, but after reading this article in the New York Times yesterday, I knew I had to chime in. If  you didn’t see the piece, it is about artists Rachel Feinstein and John Currin, “the most potent marital pairing since Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.” The article struck a chord with me because I have long also had mixed feelings about the couple myself. It brings forth many questions about our conceptions of what artists are, how they should live and what success should look like. And beyond that it even relates to broader issues such as the many Baby Boomers (which the Currins most certainly are not) and their dichotomous transformations from 60s anti-establishment hippies to successful 21st century CEO’s.

But back to the Currins – what is it about them that invites so much controversy – or is it resentment? There are many potential areas of discontent  – from their lavish lifestyle (see them above at the spring 2010 Costume Institute gala at the Met) to their libertarian politics. It is Mr. Currin who seems to be the half who incites more ire – especially after he left his long time gallery Andrea Rosen for Gagosian, clearly for glory and gain. Would we hold such ambition against anyone in any other field – I doubt it. Certainly not in the business world. And would we resent them if they were film stars or even designers? Again, unlikely. So what does that say about our expectations for fine artists?

Photo: AMBER De VOS/PatrickMcMullan.com

We don’t even have the same expectations for musicians or writers. As I started to mull these thoughts over, I realized that I was indeed harboring some residual resentment seeing Ms. Feinstein in Vogue so frequently, modeling in the Tom Ford show (below) or at the star studded gala for the opening of her recent “The Snow Queen” exhibition. (See the couple at the event above with Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Alexa Chung) But why? Is it fair? Is it even generational? Probably none of the above, but clearly I am not alone.

Photo: Terry Richardson for Tom Ford

And the couple themselves is fully aware of their image. As Ms. Feinstein said, “What people don’t understand is that there is no gain at all for an artist to do something like that in a public eye. As a movie star or fashion designer, the more publicity you get, the consensus is that (she is referring to being featured in Marc Jacobs’ several years ago) it’s a good thing. But I make maybe six pieces of art a year — and the more the general public knows about me, the less it helps in the small sphere of the art world.”

I am certainly going to be taking a long hard look at my attitudes towards fine artists. If you have a chance, read the article. Lots of food for thought. And let me know what you think – I’d be curious.

31 thoughts on “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Couple

  1. Ah…a return to the artists of the Renaissance era when the artist was often rich and and associated with the courts and powerful through their success.
    A change from the starving garret living view promoted since
    the Impressionists, people having a hard time adjusting?
    A thought…

  2. I’m not sure how I feel about this pair. Everyone is entitled to live their life any way they want to, of course, and if you’re an artist who suddenly makes huge money, why not live lavishly?

    On the other hand, I find the “poor me, publicity is bad for my rep in the art world” spiel totally disingenuous. Everyone knows that any publicity, good or bad is great for business. To live a flashy lifestyle, go to parties, participate in fashion campaigns & shows, etc, begs for the limelight. To turn tail and claim you don’t like it (especially when those choices have brought you projects, commissions, invitations, and what not) is completely insincere. I don’t care how “genuine” or “warm” and “social” someone is (or perhaps because of that very reputation), it rubs me the wrong way.

  3. I think most people have a romantic view about what artists should be, artists come in many guises, just like everyone else, I don’t think it’s fair to pigeon-hole them. I have been in many social situations with artists and it’s amazing the way people gravitate towards them especially if they are good and their work is recognised. As Heather has pointed out, there is really nothing new about rich and successful artists being on the social circuit of the times, as long as their work can stand up to it, I don’t see a problem.

  4. I think they are a fascinating couple and an artist, like a fashion designer, needs to sell his/her art so if they need to be in the public eye, then why not? Off to read the article as my mother is a collector of contemporary art and I’m sure she’ll have something to say about the article when she comes into the office!

  5. The blog today only points to the difference between NYC and the rest of the country. . .having been an artist in Florida and now living in North Carolina, I have to say this is a low blow. Artists are not to be pigeon-holed and held to some standard placed upon them by others! They’re living, breathing, hard working people. . .raising their families and doing the best they can. Why in the world would that be looked upon with distaste? I will go further and say the profession, as a whole, is used and abused. Someone always wants something for free and they don’t hesitate to ask an artist. Think about it. . .

  6. Amongst all the sadness in Japan, this was the only article that I could bring myself to read in yesterday’s paper! A good diversion if ever there was one…you could argue they are picking up where Warhol left off…only the 2011 version of the factory. I have no problem with their success…although over the years, the Vogue mentions are a bit much, Ms. Feinstein is clearly in that “social club” more by pedigree than talents, which is not the same as saying the woman is not talented! :)

  7. I don’t know anything about this article but as usual you stretched my boundaries (out of the kitchen!). I’m going to read the article and look at their artwork to see if I like it (not that it is crucial to like it and then have an opinion… HA!)

    Love your articles! Getting wiser and by the post!

  8. This also was the only article I read after following the tragedy in Japan. Fascinating but my first thought was that I had to dig out my December World of Interiors to see more of their apartment. I am always sooo obsessed with the home!
    Lynn from Decor Arts Now

  9. Artists have an especially strong stereotype, right down to the clothing they’re supposed to wear, and nothing irritates me more than the artist who consciously reinforces that stereotype. When I was in college (the 1960s), I always wore a white shirt and sometimes a tie. I was thus the true non-conformist in the class, and it seemed to perplex people.

    As I read the article, it seems as though the couple straddles two worlds, and the world of art wishes they would not. I guess the art world questions their values, and then by extension, their art.

  10. There was a comment in the article about their purple sofa, said to have belonged to the House of Windsor, i.e. Edward & Wallis. That is stretching its provenance by a great deal, as the amazing Mitch Owens & Co. have proven.

  11. I skipped the paper yesterday, so will have to catch up with the article at lunch. Sounds like an interesting read. I don’t begrudge them their success, but it doesn’t surprise me that they push people’s buttons…seems like that is something that many artists have done for centuries. But here’s a question for us–do we feel the same way about Ruben and Isabel Toledo? Now granted, Ruben’s work is more commercial and Isabel is technically a fashion designer, but I see them as two very talented artists…they are successful, in the public eye almost as much as the Currins, but are loved by most. So maybe the ambivalence lies more in personality than profession? Just thinking….

    A deep conversation for a Monday AM. Think I need more coffee! :-)

  12. I had not yet made my way through this section of the paper, but I can promise you I will be reading it first thing tonight. You pose a fascinating series of questions, especially when it comes to our own attitudes and philosophies about “fame” and notoriety. Your point about certain behaviors never even being an issue in the corporate world is spot-on, it is basic “good business” in some sectors.

    Enjoy your week!

  13. I read the article yesterday and have really mixed feelings about the couple. Living in the city you see your fair share of narcissists and fame seekers- It’s their life and they seem to be living it fabulously!

  14. I am glad you featured this – I missed the paper yesterday so I am just catching up. My feelings are quite similar to The Zhush….it very much reminds me of the Warhol-esque tactics of mixing celebrity & art superstardom. My husband and I talk about this subject a lot, the drastic change between the artists of the 60’s and now because he works with/knows some of those people of that period in New York. Whether or not we like it, or it’s right – the fact is the world has changed and that New York no longer exists, so the Feinstein/Currin’s are using the Warhol biz model to maintain their careers.
    I do think Rachel is very overexposed, though, in particular, I could not stand those Marc Jacobs ads.

  15. Such an interesting post, q! Can’t wait to read the article.
    The artists I know are a different breed, but very interesting and likable.
    Have a wonderful day.

  16. All great artists and creators are usually never loved during their time. It’s always after the fact that culture is endeared to them and their crazy antics. These two look like they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too while they are still around to witness the reactions. I say let it be, they are as they are. I believe once you present yourself in such statement ways over and over again, you are subjecting yourself to all of OUR opinions, which we all have! And once everyone gets their fill and all heads south, they have only themselves to blame. Love your piece ;) XO, Kelly

  17. Years ago, maybe 2002, I did a series of drawings of Rachel, John , Ahn Duong, the Schnabels, and many others who were fine artists that had crossed over into celebrity/fashion plates and were appearing in Vogue and at the Oscars more than in art journals. I still have mixed feelings about it all. On the one hand it’s no different than court painters, or the few chosen to be part of the best social circles of the Renaissance. However, in this age? Well, I’m just waiting to see if “John Currin for Target” is in the near future.

  18. Goodness, this post
    has me wanting more ~
    very intriguing and most
    definitely food for thought!
    My family was just talking
    about Lady Gaga, yesterday,
    {not that this couple is anything
    like her} and how in today’s
    culture, actors and singers
    quickly turn their fame into
    contracts for cosmetics, clothes,
    etc., as do sports figures. But
    you rarely see that outside those
    Hope your week is off to a great
    xx Suzanne

  19. Haven’t read the article but would like to now. It does sound like they are living in two worlds that the art world seems to resent. I just have to pose the question, why?

  20. I do not live in New York or know anything much about the politics of the art world (which seem pretty strict from that article) but I liked the line from the photographer Eric Boman best “You have one life, and you should live it according to what you think a good life should be.”
    I wonder what these people would have thought of many of the Renaissance artists who were the rock stars of their time?
    I think the fact that they are living the way they want to, a bit out of the box of the “accepted” artist life there in New York makes them a little rebellious which is what many people look for in an artist right?

  21. I’m down where things move a bit slower today, so need to find the paper and read the article. Since I’m not really informed about them, I need to educate myself before lobbing in an opinion. Off to get educated!!! :)

  22. Very very interesting. I found those Marc Jacobs ads so hard to take and yet I do like both artists and their unique voices. It’s true, they really are judged more harshly. And they are laughing all the way to the bank, so I guess it cuts both ways. Love that you posted about this.

    xo Mary Jo

  23. After reading your post I must read the article. Its truly food for thought type of piece and Im off to read it right now:) Enjoy your afternoon, sweetie

  24. This is so interesting. I had no idea that there was controversy regarding them, except when Currin left his longtime gallery. Maybe because I’m in Los Angeles, I haven’t heard about it, though I read the New York Times every day. I did read the article on Sunday, and yes, those two are larger than life kind of people, but my initial reaction was, isn’t she fabulous! Maybe it’s her style, her confidence, her creativity and energy, but I was impressed! Thanks for presenting the interesting issue of how we expect our artists to live. I know a lot of artists in Los Angeles and I have never given it any thought. Maybe because they haven’t hit the big time yet.

  25. I tend to save your posts for times that I can savior it and read in full. Interesting food for thought…we admire the starving artists, but not the flashy CEO type artists. Thanks for sharing and I will have to pop over to read that article. The image of them as a young couple just fascinates me…her dress, his frumpy look, the colorful interior, it’s all lovely somehow in my eyes.

  26. Your post, as usual, excellent – the article is a bit of sour grapes versus journalism…. art and intellect/success are not mutually exclusive, and the article just served to perpetuate the notion of starving artist=talented artist. I loved his work the first time I saw it about 15 years ago, and remember wishing that he would reap the rewards of his talent and not be buried by critics… Am glad he’s made it and am more pleased that his muse and he found each other and have a successful partnership

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