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Two Women, Two Hats

Two Women, Two Hats
signed, titled and dated 'Julie Curtiss 2014 "Two Women, Two Hats"' (on the reverse)
Flashe on card, mounted on board
20 ½ x 24 3⁄8in. (51 x 61.7cm.)
Executed in 2014
Anton Kern Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
New York, Alleyoop Projects, Feelers, 2015.
New York, Regina Rex, Garden Dwellers, 2017.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In Julie Curtiss’s Two Women, Two Hats (2014), twin figures are spotlit against an aquamarine backdrop. The woman on the left has long, dark hair, and wears a blue hat with green blossoms around its brim; her counterpart sports a blonde chignon, and her tall, bell-shaped hat is topped with red flowers. Both turn away from us in three-quarter profile, faces invisible but silhouettes distinct. Curtiss painted the work in Flashe—a matte, intensely-pigmented resin emulsion—on a card support laid down on board. The medium heightens the pristine, graphic shadows for which her uncanny and riveting paintings are renowned. Hair is a key motif for Curtiss. Here, each strand is picked out in luscious detail, creating glossy cascades of beguiling texture. While they conjure a range of surreal precedents—from Méret Oppenheim’s fur teacup to René Magritte’s bowler-hatted men and Domenico Gnoli’s fetishistic close-ups of fabric and coiffure—Curtiss’s two women create a sense of untamed secrecy that is entirely their own.

Curtiss was born in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil, and studied at the capital’s École des Beaux-Arts. After winning the 2004 LVMH young artists’ prize, she spent an exchange semester at the Art Institute of Chicago. Years later, she became aware of the vivid figurative work of the Chicago Imagists, including the pioneering Christina Ramberg, who had studied there some four decades before her. Ramberg was not one of the ‘Hairy Who’—the group of six graduates who exhibited together during the late 1960s—but hair was central to her iconographic paintings, which explored the presentation of the female body. Ramberg worked in acrylic on Masonite, a resistant surface that helped her achieve a flat, seamless finish. Curtiss, too, is a precise technician: during her early years in New York, where she lives and works today, she assisted in the studios of both Jeff Koons and KAWS while continuing to develop her own practice.

‘Hair fascinates me’, Curtiss has said, ‘because it’s one of the most durable products of the human body, it’s an organ you can sever without pain. It has a function but it is also an ornament, and that encapsulates two of my favourite subjects: nature and culture. Also, when it comes to women, I find it interesting that if it’s on the head, it’s beautiful, but if it’s on the body, it’s repulsive. I like this dance of opposites’ (J. Curtiss, quoted in E. Burns, ‘Q&A with Julie Curtiss’, Maake Magazine, 2 August 2016). With its duet of hairstyles and headwear, the present work creates its own play of similarity and difference. The faceless women appear at once alluring and unsettling; their hair, so primal and alive with detail, grows from stylised, mannequin-like heads. For Curtiss, contemporary existence—in which our animal appetites are teased by the bizarre languages of an extravagant visual culture—is inherently surreal. The present painting tunes in to these weird and wondrous currents, creating a postmodern tableau of estrangement and desire.

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