"I wanted to make a totally passive subject," stated John Currin about his girl in bed paintings, of which there only three well known examples. He continued his thought, "She's isolated by being put in bed. She's awake-she's not sleeping, she's not sick, she's just a completely passive isolated watcher or spectator. She doesn't have any life or activity. She just looks at things. It's an allegory of what you're doing when you are looking at the painting. She can't sleep because you're looking at the painting" (John Currin interview with Rochelle Steiner in John Currin, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, p.78).
Tucked in for the night or forever, covers pulled up to her neck, fluffy pillow below but eyes wide awake, this girl in Girl in Bed is, according to the artist, being kept awake by our gaze. A small painting of a gnome-like bearded older man hangs on the wall above her and seems to stare out toward the covered girl. She appears psychologically burdened with her designated position. Relating to Currin's reverence for Renaissance painting, the subject matter refers to the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders. Approached by lecherous elders demanding sexual favors while bathing one day, Susanna spurns them. They threaten to declare that they had seen her with a young lover if she refuses them, and they carry out this blackmail. She is eventually vindicated by Daniel who realizes the lie and confronts the elders, thereby making Susanna a symbol of virtue, chastity and fidelity. Is the girl in bed shunning the older man above her? Is he psychologically antagonizing her? Like the biblical story, Currin has chosen a tableau that is frozen in action and in time. She can only look, as Currin says, which despite the pleasure of it, is the most passive of all acts. It is perhaps up to us, the viewer, to act as Daniel and liberator her from her pictorial trap.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Susanna and the elders, 1610 Graf von Schönborn, Pommersfelden