Recently I’d watched a short video in which two women on the cusps of the art world were discussing local reactions to an exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. They’d titled the show ‘Naked Men – Power & Powerlessness Through the Ages’, and features works by Viennese artists Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and Anton Kolig among the 300 works.
According to the Leopold, until now all of their other nude exhibits had been limited to female nudes, and they felt this project was long overdue.
“Thanks to loans from all over Europe, the exhibition “naked men” will offer an unprecedented overview of the depiction of male nudes. Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation will focus mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945. At the same time, the exhibition will also feature important reference works from ancient Egypt, examples of Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. Spanning two centuries, the presentation will show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.”
The museum put up 180 posters on kiosks around Vienna of this Gilles and Pierre painting ‘Vive la France!’, and the reaction to it was swift as well as surprising, according to museum officials. They received complaints galore, and individuals were even taking it upon themselves to Commit Graffiti on some of the posters, usually in the form of spray-painting over the young soccer players’ genitals.
In response to the negative reactions, museum decided to add strategically placed red ribbons across the offending features to the posters. It’s hard to tell which of the three versions looked the silliest, imo. Attendees of the exhibit met ‘Big Boy’ above as they entered the Leopold, and according to all reports, his presence outdoors gave a fairly broad hint as to what might be found inside the building. ‘Big Boy’ was constructed of plywood sheeting over framing; you can see how it’s constructed here. It’s cool, and I love the piece (except for the disconcerting cannon-like design of his willie, but that’s incidental).
“But there seems to be less tolerance for shows of male nudity. Museum officials say they received a flood of complaints by last week, mostly from outlying districts heavily populated by new immigrants from Muslim countries.
Museum director Tobias Natter says the flap serves to point out “that nobody gets offended by naked women, but with naked men: yes.”
Museum officials may or may not have extrapolated correctly that it was mainly Muslims who expressed such strong objections, nor did they speak to the genders of either the Graffiti Censors or callers, so we just don’t know for certain.
Of course we have to consider the possibility that they purposely chose the French Soccer Boys to gin up response as free advertising for the exhibit. I don’t think it’s particularly artistic, nor does it seem to be terribly representational of the whole exhibit. In the end, for the purposes of this post, none of that matters, even if you love it to distraction. But the bigger picture is that museum officials reported that none of the posters of female nude artwork ever received complaints.
Would the reactions to the poster have been similar in your cities or countries, or are nude art exhibits ever advertised with explicit nude art at all? If it’s indeed true that male nude representations are received less favorably in general, why do you think that is?
Do you respond more favorably to female nude artwork than male nudes, and why or why not? Your gender or sexual orientation may be relevant, but it’s not obligatory to share that information.
Aside from art, do you enjoy the female form itself or the male form itself (in general, of course)? It’s not clear to me that appreciation of beauty can be neatly separated from even modest arousal or emotional yearning, but that may just be part of the discussion of either of the two related questions.
Having thought about these issues in the past, and having read some of the opinions and art history written expressly because of the Naked Men story, I don’t want to front-load the discussion too much, but I will say that I prefer the female form in general, though once Michaelangelo and his peers studied underlying musculature in dissection labs, that knowledge brought to bear in male nude representations more powerful and intriguing, and must have influenced other artists to do the same.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and hope that this might be a bit of an antidote to the electoral madness that’s afoot right now. The appreciation of art and beauty is always a refuge from the darkness or uncertainty, which is not to say that expressing the undersides of our present daily realities can’t be beneficial as well.
These two nudes were painted by Egon Schiele, one of the Viennese artists featured in the Naked Men exhibit. He apparently used himself as a model for many of his extremely impressionistic male nude canvases, and the female was obviously featured in another exhibit at the Leopold in the past, and didn’t draw outrage (even her Popeye-eats-his-spinach forearms.)
This is a video the Leopold ‘Naked Men’ webpage featured if you’d like to see more of the artwork. Don’t worry if you don’t understand Naked Man language… Feel free to come back more than once or twice; it would be nice to ping off each others’ comments.