‘Bea Arthur Naked’: Controversial John Currin Nude Portrait Expecting $2.5M At Christie’s

 @jiillx
on May 15 2013 2:35 PM

A controversial nude painting of “Golden Girls” icon Bea Arthur by the artist John Currin is headed for the auction block at Christie’s and expected to take in anywhere from $1.8-$2.5 million.

The 1991 painting, aptly titled “Bea Arthur Naked,” caused a stir when it first debuted. Arthur, who starred on the '90s sitcom as protagonist Dorothy Zbornak before dying of cancer in 2009, never posed for Currin. In an interview with New York Magazine, Currin said that he painted Arthur after having a vision of the actress during a walk home from the subway.

“When I made the painting, I was living in Hoboken and still making abstract paintings, and I was very frustrated,” Currin said. “I was walking back from the PATH train and this vision of Bea Arthur just came to me.”

In a now infamous review, Village Voice art critic Kim Levin described it as “awful” and implored readers to “boycott this show.” Levin has since amended that description, writing in 2003, “I was wrong of course … Currin’s subsequent oeuvre reveals an artist whose work is something other than merely misogynist, sexist, and ageist.”

But according to the Daily Beast, the portrait has only continued to generate controversy in the more than 20 years since its initial debut, contributing to its estimated high value.

In his book “John Currin and the American Grotesque,” art historian Robert Rosenblum describes the painting of Arthur as a continuation of Currin’s obsession with “the humanoid fantasies of contemporary America,” propelled by sex.

“Even Bea Arthur, star of ‘Golden Girls,’ the TV series about aging singles who still want to be sexy and meet Mr. Right, gets stripped in a flabbergasting ‘portrait,’” Rosenblum writes, “in which Ms. Arthur appears to be posing as a demure senior citizen who by some bizarre accident is stark naked, her slightly sagging breasts fully exposed.”

Peter Schjeldahl, an art critic and staff writer for The New Yorker, similarly described the painting as part of series of “acrid fantasy portraits of menopausal women.”

Although the portrait is arguably one of Currin’s most provocative, it likely won’t be his most expensive auction. Another piece by Currin, who is currently represented by the Gagosian, went for $5.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2008, according to the New York Times.

2013-05-14-Lot13CurrinBeaArthurNaked1 John Currin's 1991 painting "Bea Arthur Naked" is expected to go for millions at a Christie's auction.  John Currin/Christie's

Share this article

More News from IBT MEDIA