The Monthly (Australia) - - NOTED - JULIE EWING­TON

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Syd­ney, un­til 5 Fe­bru­ary

At last – a truly in­tel­li­gent block­buster. Nude is a splen­did assem­bly of var­i­ous naked­nesses in paint­ings, sculp­tures, prints and pho­to­graphs span­ning 200 years. Thought­fully bun­dled into eight roughly chrono­log­i­cal sec­tions – from ‘The His­tor­i­cal Nude’ of the 18th and 19th cen­turies to ‘Body Pol­i­tics’ and ‘The Vul­ner­a­ble Body’ from the 1970s to the 2000s – the ex­hi­bi­tion runs the gamut from Lord Leighton’s pearly The Bath of Psy­che (1890) to David Hock­ney’s ten­der prints show­ing gay cou­ples (1966) to John Co­plans’ mag­nif­i­cent pho­to­graphic ru­mi­na­tions on his own age­ing body (1994). Nude is as in­clu­sive as it is eclec­tic, stud­ded with treats like a Christ­mas pud­ding. And, as all block­busters must be, it’s a show for the whole fam­ily.

Why? Nude is frank and sane, equally un­apolo­getic about the mytho­log­i­cal bag­gage veil­ing late Vic­to­rian nudes (some­times with ac­tual paint), and Fran­cis Ba­con’s rugged eroti­cism, and the open chal­lenge of Barkley L Hen­dricks’ Fam­ily Jules: NNN (No Naked Nig­gahs) of 1974, all puns in­tended. Here the hu­man body, the canon­i­cal sub­ject of Western art, is con­sid­ered both within the aca­demic tra­di­tion of the nude and the more re­cent “naked por­trait”. We’ve known “nude” and “naked” since television art guru John Berger took on his pre­de­ces­sor Ken­neth Clark in the early 1970s, but this openly pop­ulist ex­er­cise skil­fully weaves to­gether a wealth of re­cent ideas, espe­cially from fem­i­nist artists and writ­ers. The Guer­rilla Girls’ fa­mous poster Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get into the Met. Mu­seum? (1989) neatly sums up these as­ser­tions, so it’s won­der­ful to see two vet­eran Amer­i­can fem­i­nists hung to­gether: Alice Neel’s Kitty Pear­son (1973) is one of sev­eral “you can leave your hat on” works in the show, and Sylvia Sleigh’s

Paul Rosano Re­clin­ing (1974) is quite as sac­cha­rine as Lord Leighton but far more hon­est in its de­sir­ing gaze; Louise Bour­geois’ works on pa­per are in turn ir­rev­er­ent and pas­sion­ate, but the sculp­ture

Arched Fig­ure (1993, cast 2010), the AGNSW’s major re­cent ac­qui­si­tion, gives us a male nude that is ex­tra­or­di­nary in its cor­po­ral­ity.

Which brings me to the show­stop­per: Rodin’s mar­ble The Kiss (1901–04) in a cav­ernous dou­ble-height space. Sparkling, spotlit, still as­ton­ish­ing, The Kiss com­pels cen­trifu­gal cir­cling, com­plete at­ten­tion; you no­tice only later the var­i­ously as­trin­gent, lush and feral works on pa­per sur­round­ing it, in­clud­ing JMW Turner’s once-scan­dalous erotic wa­ter­colours, the ones that the dis­mayed John Ruskin “kept as ev­i­dence of a fail­ure of mind only”. This room alone is worth the visit.

Cu­rated jointly by the Tate’s Emma Cham­bers and the AGNSW’s Justin Pa­ton, Nude is an ex­em­plary in­stance of the col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­hi­bi­tion projects that were so im­pres­sive in 2016. It tri­umphantly pools ideas and ex­per­tise, as much as works of art. Don’t miss it.

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