24
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘nude men: from 1800 to the present day’ at the Leopold Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – extended until 4th March 2013

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal. 'Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude' 1787

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal
Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude
1787
© Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

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Joseph-D_sir_Court_Tod_des_Hippolytos-WEB

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Joseph-Désiré Court
Death of Hippolytus
1825
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération

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François-Léon Benouville. 'Achills Zorn' 1847

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François-Léon Benouville
Achills Zorn
1847
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier

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“When we stop and think about it, we all are naked underneath our clothes.”

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(Heinrich Heine, Travel Pictures, 1826)

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A great posting. I used to have a print of Querelle by Andy Warhol on my wall when I was at university in London aged 17 years old – that and We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney. My favourite in this posting is the painting Seated Youth (morning) by Austrian expressionist painter Anton Kolig. Such vivacity, life and colour, perhaps a post-coital glow (was he straight, bisexual, gay? who cares, it is a magnificent painting). There is very little information on Kolig on the web. Upon recommendation by Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll Kolig received a 1912 scholarship for a stay in Paris, where Kolig studied modern painting at the Louvre. He enlisted in the First World War in 1916 and survived, continuing to work in paint, tapestries and mosaic during the postwar years and the 1920s. He received two offers for professorships in Prague and Stuttgart, he opted for the Württemberg Academy in Stuttgart, where he trained a number of important painters later. In addition, his work was also shown internationally at numerous exhibitions. He was persecuted by the Nazis and his art destroyed because it was thought to be “degenerate” art. Kolig, which was essentially apolitical, remained until the fall of 1943 in Stuttgart, where he felt less and less well, however, and eventually returned to Nötsch. On 17 December 1944 Kolig was buried with his family in a bomb attack and seriously injured. Much of his work was destroyed here. He died in 1950.

For more information on the male body in photographic history please see the chapter “Historical Pressings” from my PhD research Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (2001). The chapter examines the history of photographic images of the muscular male body from the Victorian to contemporary era. The pages are not a fully comprehensive guide to the history and context of this complex field, but may offer some insight into its development.

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Many thankx for the Leopold Museum, Vienna for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Anon. 'Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg' 16th Century casting after Roman Original

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Anon
Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg
16th Century casting after Roman Original
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Antiquities

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Anon. 'Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty' around 2400 BC

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Anon
Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer
Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty, around 2400 BC
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna with MVK and ÖTM, Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection

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Auguste Rodin. 'The Age of Bronze' 1875/76

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zurich

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Anton Kolig. 'Seated Youth (morning)' 1919

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Anton Kolig
Seated Youth (morning)
1919
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 406

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“Previous exhibitions on the theme of nudity have mostly been limited to female nudes. With the presentation “naked men” in the autumn of 2012 the Leopold Museum will be showing a long overdue exhibition on the diverse and changing depictions of naked men from 1800 to the present.

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 exhibition, curated by Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold, traces this theme over a long period and draws a continuous arc from the late 18th century to the present. Altogether, the showing brings together around 300 individual works by nearly 100 female and male artists from Europe and the USA. The objective of the two curators Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold was “to clearly show the differing artistic approaches, competing models of masculinity, the transformation of ideas about the body, beauty and values, the political dimension of the body, and last but not least the breaking of conventions.”

“Over the past few years, portrayals of nude males have achieved a hitherto unseen public presence,” says Elisabeth Leopold. To which Tobias G. Natter adds, “At the same time, this exhibition is our way of reacting to the fact that categories which had previously seemed established, such as ‘masculinity’, ‘body’ and ‘nakedness’, have today become unstable for a broad swath of society.”

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Diversity and abundance: showing for what “nude men” could stand

Elisabeth Leopold remarks that, “In the run-up to our project, we were very surprised to note that some commentators expected a ‘delicate’ exhibition. But in fact, we had no intention of treating the theme in such a way – with reserve, with tact, or in any other way delicately. And we did not understand this topic to be at all delicate in terms of an exhibition on art history somehow requiring a degree of discretion.” A project like nude men would be entirely unthinkable without the experiences and impulses of feminist art as well as cultural history, cultural studies and gender studies. With the exhibition nude men, the Leopold Museum seeks to react to the circumstance that societal categories commonly thought to be firmly established – such as “masculinity”, “body” and “nakedness” – are currently undergoing major changes.

By seizing on these developments, we understand the museum to be an institution which is relevant to today’s society – that is to say, a place for both the present and the future. Tobias G. Natter: “Our objective is to show the diversity and transformation of the portrayal of nude men in light of clearly defined thematic focuses. With fresh curiosity, without traditional scholarly prejudices, and with fascination for an inexhaustibly rich field, we use this exhibition to draw an arc spanning over 200 years which, not least, make a theme of the long shadow cast by the fig leaf.”

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The exhibition

The exhibition traces its theme from the late 18th century to the present day. It has three key historical themes: the classical era and the Age of Enlightenment around 1800, classical modernism around 1900, and post-1945 art. These three themes are introduced by a prologue.

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Prologue

The exhibition’s three focuses are preceded by a prologue. Using five outstanding sculptures from European art history, the prologue illuminates this theme’s long tradition. It runs from the “oldest nude in town” – a larger-than-life freestanding figure from ancient Egypt – and the statue known as the Jüngling vom Magdalensberg to Auguste Rodin and Fritz Wotruba, and on to a display window mannequin which Heimo Zobernig reworked to create a nude self-portrait.

Tobias G. Natter: “The curatorial intention behind prologue was to have the audience stroll through nearly five millennia of Western sculptural art in just a few steps. This is meant both to communicate both the long tradition of such images and to highlight the degree to which nude men were taken for granted to be the foundation of our art. These five thousand years form the exhibition’s outer referential frame. Strictly speaking, the showing begins in earnest with the Age of Enlightenment and the period around 1800.”

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue "naked men"

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue “naked men”

Anon
Freestanding figure of the court official Snofrunefer
c. 2400 B.C.
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zürich

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Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
2011
© VBK, Vienna, 2012

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Paul Cézanne. 'Seven Bathers' ca. 1900

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Paul Cézanne
Seven Bathers
c. 1900
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel

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Edvard Munch. 'Bathing Men' 1915

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Edvard Munch
Bathing Men
1915
Munch Museum, Oslo
© The Munch Museum/The Munch Ellingsen Group/VBK, Vienna 2012

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Wilhelm von Gloeden. 'Flute Concert' 1905

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Wilhelm von Gloeden
Flute Concert
1905
Verlag Adolph Engel, private collection

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Richard Gerstl. 'Nude Self-portrait with Palette' 1908

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Richard Gerstl
Nude Self-portrait with Palette
1908
© Leopold Museum, Wien

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Egon Schiele. '“Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd) ["Preacher" (Nude with teal shirt)]' 1913

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Egon Schiele
‘”Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd)’ [“Preacher” (Nude with teal shirt)]
1913
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2365

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Theme 1: Classicism and the Power of Reason

In the 18th century and beginning in France, the emancipation of the bourgeois class and the swan song of the Ancien Régime occasioned a renegotiation of concepts of masculinity with both societal and aesthetic implications. The naked male hero was defined anew as a cultural pattern. It became the embodiment of the new ideals.

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Theme 2: Classical Modernism

A new and independent pictorial world arose in the late 19th century with the casual depiction of naked men bathing in natural, outdoor settings. The various ways in which artists dealt with this topic can be viewed together as a particularly sensitive gauge of societal moods. In the exhibition, the genre is represented with prominent examples by Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig

Kirchner and others. Classical modernism’s quest for a new artistic foundation also had its impact on the topics of nakedness and masculinity. But what happened when the painter’s gaze wandered on from the naked other to the naked self? A principle witness with regard to this phenomenon in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna is Egon Schiele. With his taboo-breaking self-reflections, he radicalized artists’ self-understanding in a way that nobody had before him. Elisabeth Leopold: “The shift of the painter’s gaze from the naked opposite to the exposed self gave rise to the nude self-portrait – a shining beacon of modernism.”

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Theme 3: Post-1945 Developments

In light of the abundance of interesting works from which to choose, the exhibition’s third theme comprises three specific focuses. Common to all three is the way in which the political potential of the naked body is explored. The first of these focuses concentrates on the battle fought by women for legal and social equality during the 20th century.

Outstanding examples of the intense way in which feminist artists have dealt with their own bodies as foils for the projection of gender roles can be found in the output of Maria Lassnig and Louise Bourgeois, whose works are included in the exhibition alongside others by younger woman artists. It was pioneers such as Lassnig and Bourgeois who set in motion the process which, today, underlies feminist art’s steadily increasing presence in terms of interpretation, resources, norms, power, and participation in the art business. The second area introduces artistic works that interlock nude self-portraits and the culture of protest, which bears great similarities to feminist criticism – the naked self between normativity and revolt.

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The one issue is the nude self-portrait as a field for experimentation and a phenomenon which questions artistic and societal identities. The other issue has to do with substantive contributions to the gender debate, as well as with artists who take the crisis of obsolete male images as an opportunity to put forth self-defined identities. The third focus, finally, lies in the shift in roles in which the man goes from being the subject to being the object, in fact becoming an erotically charged object – perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in terms of the forms via which nude men have been portrayed from 1800 to the present. Gay emancipation, in particular, served to radically cast doubt upon normative concepts of masculinity, which it opposed with its own alternative models. In this exhibition, these are represented above all in paintings that feature intimate closeness and male couples.

As the opening of this exhibition neared, a frequently-asked question was that of why the project is being undertaken. Tobias G. Natter’s response: “There are many reasons. But most importantly: because it is overdue.”

Press release from the Leopold Museum website

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Bruce Nauman. 'Untitled (Five Marching Men)' 1985

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Bruce Nauman
Untitled (Five Marching Men)
1985
© Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / VBK Wien 2012

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Gilbert & George. 'Spit Law' 1997

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Gilbert & George
Spit Law
1997
© Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris • Salzburg

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Elmgreen & Dragset. 'Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)' 2009

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Elmgreen & Dragset
Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)
2009
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
© Courtesy Galleri Nocolai Wallner / VBK Wien 2012

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Thomas Ruff. 'nudes vg 02' 2000

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Thomas Ruff
“nudes vg 02”
2000
Ed. 3/5
© Private collection Cofalka, Austria/with the kind support of agpro – austrian gay professionals
© VBK, Wien 2012

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Jean Cocteau. 'Male Couple Illustration for Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest' 1947

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Jean Cocteau
Male Couple
Illustration for Jean Genet’s ‘Querelle de Brest’

1947
© Private collection © VBK, Wien 2012

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Fillette (Sweeter Version)' 1968, cast 1999

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Louise Bourgeois
Fillette (Sweeter Version)
1968, cast 1999
© Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland © VBK, Wien 2012

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Pierre & Gilles. 'Vive la France [Long live France]' 2006

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Pierre & Gilles
Vive la France [Long live France]
2006
© Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

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Andy Warhol. 'Querelle' c. 1982

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Andy Warhol
Querelle
c. 1982
© Privatsammlung/ VBK, Wien 2012

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Leopold Museum
Museums Quartier, Museumsplatz 1
1070 Vienna, Austria

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Thursdays: 10am – 9pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Leopolod Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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