ARTYFACTS: Naked portraiture

Monday, September 03, 2007

Naked portraiture

First up – a large exhibition of nakedness can’t really fail. You don’t see this number naked people that often and there’s the sexual/taboo/naughtiness stuff to give it all edge.

So what’s does it achieve? Something unexpected. The contrast between the British and American attitude towards nudity became apparent. Spencer, Freud, Bacon, Gilbert and George, Hockney even Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas, seem disgusted by nudity. The British nudes are uncomfortable, contorted and unnatural. In The Piss by Gilbert & George is a good example – an ugly, self-indulgent image. Human Toilet II by Sarah Lucas show the UK’s self-disgust at its best. Jemima Stehli tries to play some old stereotypical feminist gestures. I suppose Howson’s portrait of Madonna had to be included as a token Scot gesture. It’s hideous. The exceptions are the photographers David Bailey who, as a photographer wanted to celebrate celebrity e.g. Jane Birkin. The US nudes of Mapplethorpe, are confident and at ease with their sexuality. Similarly, My Mother and I by Elinor Carucci or Rudolf Nureyev by Richard Avedon. The curators clearly shied away from the fisting and more explicit images – my point really. Polly Borland’s portrait of Germaine Greer is my favourite image – having see her age on TV, this is the real Greer. The Bonnard paintings are similarly relaxed.

Another realisation is the fact that many of the artists in this exhibition were gay and a wonderful gay sensibility is everywhere in both the nude photography and painting. I suppose the predicament of many of these gay artists meant that art was a way of expressing what they could not easily express in public.

Oh, I almost forgot, they just shot back into my mind, so they must have had impact - I liked the two large images of pole dancers in baroque altar-piece poses. Photography promises do much in our digital age.


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