Exhibition | The Nude Male in Art

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on September 14, 2013

Press release masculin (1 July 2013) from the Musée d’Orsay:

Masculin / Masculin: L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 24 September 2013 — 2 January 2014

Curated by Ophélie Ferlier, Xavier Rey, Ulrich Pohlmann, and Tobias G. Natter

Pierre et Gilles, Mercure, 2001 © Pierre et Gilles. Courtesy Galerie. Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais, The Shepherd Paris, 1787 Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Photo © NGC

Pierre et Gilles, Mercury, 2001 © Pierre et Gilles (Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris)
Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais, The Shepherd Paris, 1787 (Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada)

While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th-century classical art and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid-18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien [Saint Sebastian], De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux [Mysterious Baths] and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art. The exhibition has been organised by the Musée d’Orsay in collaboration with the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

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The catalogue is published jointly by by the Musée d’Orsay and Flammarion:

Guy Cogeval, Claude Arnaud, Philippe Comar, Damien Delille, Ophélie Ferlier, Ulrich Pohlmann, Xavier Rey, Masculin / Masculin: L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours (Paris: Musée d’Orsay / Flammarion, 2013), 304 pages, ISBN: 978-2081310094, 40€.

c3a24fa05bMasculin/Masculin montre combien les professions de foi esthétiques, dogmes et prises de position plastiques du XIXe siècle en matière de nudité masculine puisent leurs origines au classicisme du XVIIIe siècle et demeurent encore présents aujourd’hui. Les oeuvres y sont envisagées sous l’angle de l’histoire sociale et culturelle, ou des enjeux de politique actuelle concernant la redéfinition de la perception du corps, la permissivité dans sa représentation et son usage, son pouvoir et son intimité, ou encore du rapport entre les sexes et de l’évolution de la masculinité.

Véritable dialogue entre peintures, sculptures, arts graphiques et photographies, le catalogue tisse des liens entre les époques grâce à d’inattendues et fécondes confrontations, les oeuvres contemporaines apportant un éclairage nouveau sur les siècles précédents. L’éclectisme revendiqué dans le choix des oeuvres, sans pour autant occulter les représentations les plus douloureuses de l’homme nu, aboutit à une célébration de la beauté qui ne dissimule pas sa joie et à un plaisir trop longtemps passé sous silence alors même qu’il est indissociable du genre. L’originalité n’est donc pas recherchée pour elle-même, mais davantage érigée en sésame ouvrant à un renouvellement du regard porté sur des oeuvres parfois extrêmement célèbres, visant à bousculer des lectures et à créer des correspondances.

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Note (added 12 October 2013) — Doreen Carvajal, “With Money Tight, Museums Embrace Nudes,” The New York Times (11 October 2013).

. . .  the crowds are coming [to the Musée d’Orsay], averaging more than 4,500 people a day, triple the amount for a show at the same time last year, according to museum figures. The exhibition — which includes works by Picasso and Edvard Munch as well as more contemporary nudes by David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe — has provoked a wide range of responses inside and outside France. “A confused show” the French daily newspaper Le Monde weighed in, “devoid of any historical reflection.” But the show still was the buzz of Paris Fashion Week. And Marie Claire, a women’s beauty magazine, anointed it the “hottest event” of autumn. And sizzle is what a number of major European institutions seek this fall, hoping that a focus on sex will entice visitors and broaden their appeal to younger generations and a demographic who are more likely to read Marie Claire than Le Monde. . .

The full article is available here»

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