Exhibition | Nude Men in Vienna

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 3, 2012

With the advertising for this exhibition having been covered sensationally by the international press, the focus on contemporary work has obscured the late eighteenth-century offerings. Press release from the Leopold Museum:

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Nude Men from 1800 to the Present / Nackte Männer
Leopold Museum, Vienna, 19 October 2012 — 28 January 2013

Curated by Elisabeth Leopold and Tobias Natter

Ilse Haider, Mr. Big, installed at the Leopold Museum

The endless flood of images intrinsic to today’s lifestyle has given unprecedented public prominence to the depiction of male nudes. At the same time seemingly firmly established categories such as masculinity, body, and nakedness are apparently being redefined on a broad social basis, resulting in a new interpretation of male gender roles. These developments have prompted the Leopold Museum to embark on a topical as well as historical journey through the visual arts in search of the male nude, a quest leading predominantly from the longing for antiquity prevalent in art around 1800 to contemporary art. The exhibition Naked Men: Power & Powerlessness through the Ages also represents the fulfillment of the museum’s long-cherished ambition to present a counterpart to the highly successful 2006 exhibition Body – Face – Soul curated by Elisabeth Leopold, which explored the female image in art from the 16th century to the present. Thus, the current presentation constitutes a continuation of this theme, except that its focus is now on the opposite sex.

The exhibition Naked Men: Power & Powerlessness through the Ages is based on works by Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and Anton Kolig – three artists who are more comprehensively represented in the Leopold Museum than in any other institution and in whose oeuvre the depiction of the male nude features prominently. Schiele’s male nudes can be seen as unconditional explorations of the self, as expressions of inner emotions and as body images situated between vulnerability and provocation. Gerstl followed the tradition of Christian iconography with the first of his two life-sized self-portraits, while he elevated the fragmentation of form to a principal in the second with his wild brushstrokes. Kolig was captivated by the depiction of naked young men all his life and dedicated his drawings almost exclusively to this motif.

Based on eminent examples from its own collection and complemented by loaned works from all over Europe, the Leopold Museum’s exhibition will set out in two main directions, examining the depiction of the male nude in contemporary art, while also exploring the Old Masters’ approach to the subject from the Renaissance all the way back to antiquity. The exhibition unites examples of many different genres, including painting, sculpture, graphic arts, photography and new media, with special emphases on the following themes:

The Measure of All Things: The Male Body and Art Academies

Ever since the Renaissance, the naked male body was considered to be an important object of study and an indispensable part of the academies’ curriculum, which was one of the reasons that women were denied access to art academies for so long. The presentation affords insights into the life drawing rooms of European art academies from the Baroque period onwards and illustrates to what an extent all eyes were focused on the naked man, though he himself was the only one to remain naked.

Longing for Antiquity and the Male Ideal

For centuries, the depiction of the male nude was only legitimized by ancient art. These restrictions prompted the emergence of various artistic strategies that reinterpreted ancient ideals under the guise of antiquity. This is illustrated in the exhibition with examples from the period around 1800 up until the present.

The Naked Self

While Klimt still believed that nakedness and truth coincided in the Nuda Veritas, Schiele began to make his own body the object of his paintings. Expressionism brought with it a radical examination of the self, which saw the artists exposing themselves both physically and existentially and exploring the use of their own nudity as a sphere of political influence.

In the Sights of Women

The battle of female desire and male denial is not often addressed in the visual arts, but it has its historical sources both in the biblical story of Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar and in the ancient mythological traditions of Narcissus and Adonis. The emancipation of women as artists has brought with it a new basis for the depiction of such conflicts. Nowadays, female artists also have access to male nude models and are free to interpret and depict this motif at their will, currently often with a view to deconstructing gender and gender asymmetries.

Bathers — On the Beach

In the second half of the 19th century depictions of naked people in nature abounded. These renderings had their origin in a reassessment of man’s position in nature. Based on early depictions such as Dürer’s The Men’s Bath, the exhibition features many eminent examples of such encounters and get-togethers of naked men, from Cézanne to Mapplethorpe.

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In the United States, the English edition of the catalogue will be distributed by The University of Chicago Press:

Catalogue: Elisabeth Leopold and Tobias Natter, eds., Nude Men from 1800 to the Present (Vienna: Hirmer, 2013) ISBN: 9783777458519, $50.

Rodin’s Thinker. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Pigalle’s controversial portrayal of the philosopher Voltaire. From its earliest days, art history is rife with representations of nude men. But while there is no shortage of studies of art celebrating the female form, the male nude has suffered from relative neglect. This book seeks to correct this imbalance with a collection of paintings, sculptures, and photographs that challenge conceptions of the body and masculinity, many of which continue to have considerable cultural resonance today.

Beginning with a look at art completed in life-drawing classes popular across European academies, the book moves on to representations of masculinity throughout the French Revolution, including works by Johann Heinrich Füssli and Antonio Canova; provocative Sturm und Drang paintings by Edvard Munch and contemporaries; and late impressionist works. The unsettling self-portraits of Austrian artists Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl exemplify an extreme candor that characterized the early twentieth century. Other twentieth-century artists whose work is included in this book are Jean Cocteau, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, and Louise Bourgeois.

With nearly four hundred full-color illustrations, the book also includes insightful essays examining topics like male identity, depictions of desire in modern art, and the use of nude men in advertising.

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Note (added 2 February 2013) — The sensational coverage is likely to continue. As reported by the AFP, viewers are invited to step out of their own clothes for a special viewing on February 18, “Our museum will be a clothes-free zone for one evening. . . Nudists, naturists are welcome!”

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