It’s bold. And messy. And beautiful. And crude. And confronting. And entertaining.
Nude: Art from the Tate collection bring together pieces from the Tate Museum (London) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and it is, hands down, fabulous. The Nude is always an intriguing subject. It is an art form usually considered essential by educators and one that is particularly attractive to audiences for its ‘forbidden fruit’ quality. Quite simply summed up by the Art Gallery of NSW:
‘It is one of art’s oldest – and often its most controversial.’
Organised chronologically and also thematically, this exhibition is not only easy to navigate, but its design actually helps to retain the massive amount of information visitors are exposed to. This exhibition does not discriminate between the sexes. On the contrary, the male nude is featured just as much as the female nude. Are you interested in Contemporary art? Photographic? Modern European? Yes, these are all represented here too. But this is by no means a survey exhibition. Rather, it is carefully designed journey through time and theme of the Nude. From the historical nude and classical scenes, to private nudes as expressions of the artist’s personal lives and desires, to erotic expression of love, to nude in abstraction, to vulnerability, to politics… The exhibition offers an impressive range of viewpoints and representations of this quintessential subject.
The highlight of the exhibition is undoubtedly Auguste Rodin’s massive 3 tonne marble sculpture “The Kiss” (1901-04). Its alluring magnetism is transparent at first glance. Set up by itself in a large hall, it offers a runway around the entire work, so that visitors can move around it without interruptions. A little ‘mood lighting’, lots of minimalism in the room, and we have serene perfection. The best way to see this work is by walking around it. The sheer volume of emotions it evokes is characteristic of Rodin’s work. And don’t be afraid to try the opposite direction – it produces a surprisingly different impression of this monumental work. The whole exhibition is built around this work: as you wander through the rooms, you actually circle the room with The Kiss without realising it until you arrive in the hall. (It makes a nice afterthought to ponder on as you depart into the gift shop.) In fact, so central is this work that at the exit there are smaller versions of re-enactment of The Kiss by Sydney seven couples willing to sit for local artist for a recreation of the fatally magic moment depicted by Rodin.
Some pieces not to be missed (these are my personal favourites):
- Picasso’s Nude woman in a red armchair (1932): A portrait of Picasso’s lover which is actually a tender double portrait of the artist and the model. Two bodies merge into one in a tender display of love. The more you look at this work, the warmer it seems, despite the cool blues it is painted in.
- Pierre Bonnard’s The bath (1925): Bonnard painted his wife Marthe many times, usually in the bath setting. There are many theories as to why she took so many baths, and it’s fun to speculate while observing a small selection of the bath works that were a result of nearly a 50 year relationship between artist and his muse and wife.
- Walter Sickert’s La Hollondaise (c.1906): You’ll want to see this from a distance and up close, just to experience how the rough, broken brush strokes form into a female shape on the bed. Harsh voyeuristic effect is confronting, but that’s what make this so interesting.
- Barkley Hendricks Family Jewels: NNN (No Naked Niggahs) (1974): Beautifully bold, unapologetic and uplifting. If you want to walk away smiling – this is your painting!
- Sarah Lucas’s NUD Cycladic (2010): Comical and bizarre sculptures made of nylon tights, synthetic fibre, wire and breeze blocks. Unsettling abstract artworks that draw you in with the endless ‘legs’ that twist into each other in unnatural, boneless, almost violent manner. Curiosity will take the better of you – just don’t trip on the platform while you straight your neck trying to follow the endless labyrinths of these nylon paths!
- Ron Mueck’s Wild Man (2005): He is scared, uncomfortable, clearly unwilling to be observed. I love that this work is not on a rise, but simply ‘fenced off’ with a white strip of paint on the floor. I also love that you cannot circle him all the way around. There is a constant tension between what we are and are not allowed, what is theoretically possible but not undertaken by the viewer. Brilliant last piece for this insightful exhibition!
Can’t make this exhibition any better. (Well, maybe only if photos were allowed…)
Nude: art from the Tate collection is on view until 5th February 2017 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. You can find information on tickets and special events here.