Posts Tagged ‘ephebes

21
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider, Homoeroticism and the Male Form circa 1900’ at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York City

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 8th December 2013

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART WORK OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

Many thankx to The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. More images and information can be found on the exhibition web pages.

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“Schneider was born in Saint Petersburg in 1870. During his childhood his family lived in Zürich, but following the death of his father, Schneider, moved to Dresden, where in 1889 he became a student at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (Kreuzgymnasium). In 1903 he met best-selling author Karl May, and subsequently became the cover illustrator of a number of May’s books including WinnetouOld SurehandAm Rio de la Plata. A year later in 1904, Schneider was appointed professor at the Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstschule Weimar.

During this period Schneider lived together with painter Hellmuth Jahn.  Jahn began blackmailing Schneider by threatening to expose his homosexuality, which was punishable under §175 of the penal code. Schneider fled to Italy, where homosexuality was not criminalized at that time. In Italy, Schneider met painter Robert Spies, with whom he traveled through the Caucasus Mountains. He then traveled back to Germany, where he lived for six months in Leipzig before returning to Italy, where he resided in Florence. When the First World War started, Schneider returned to Germany again, taking up residence in Hellerau (near Leipzig). After 1918, he co-founded an institute called Kraft-Kunst for body building. Some of the models for his art works trained here.

Schneider, who suffered from diabetes mellitus, suffered a diabetic seizure during a ship voyage in the vicinity of Swinemünde. As a result he collapsed and died in 1927 in Swinemünde. He was buried in Loschwitz Cemetery, Germany.”

Text from Wikipedia, where a good gallery of further work by Schneider can be found.

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Sascha Schneider. 'Patriarch' 1895

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Sascha Schneider
Patriarch
1895
Oil on canvas
40.15 x 58.26 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Images of rulers, emperors, and patriarchs [are] a reminder that Schneider was born into an imperial political system. But like the Babylonian figure of Growing Stronger, this large patriarch isn’t a figure of contemporary life, but an echo of a resurgent classicism. Schneider’s fascination with authoritarian masculinity bookends his interest in male youth, a parallel itself rooted in classical ideals. (Text from the exhibition web page)

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Sascha Schneider. 'Mammon and his Slave' c. 1896

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Sascha Schneider
Mammon and his Slave
c. 1896
Wood engraving, published by J. J. Weber, Leipzig
9.44 x 12.59 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Triumph of Darkness' 1896

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Sascha Schneider
Triumph of Darkness [Der Fürst der Verdammten (Prince of the Damned)]
1896
Mixed media
62.99 x 106.29 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Untitled (study of a reclining male nude with tucked up legs)' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
Untitled (study of a reclining male nude with tucked up legs)
1894
Pencil and charcoal with white highlights on grey paper
20.07 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'War Cry' 1915

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Sascha Schneider
War Cry
1915
Charcoal on paper
19.68 x 17.17 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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“The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art will kick off its autumn 2013 season by exploring the German painter Sascha Schneider (1870-1927). At the beginning of the 20th Century, Schneider was elevated to a prestigious post at a German university and was one of the most well-known and well-respected public artists of his time. Only a generation later, he was largely relegated to obscurity. This exhibit examines not only Schneider’s art, but the strange cultural phenomenon that caused his dramatic rise and fall. Curated by Jonathan David Katz, this will not only be the single most extensive one-person exhibition of Sascha Schneider’s art ever mounted since his premature death, but the very first exhibition of Sascha Schneider’s art in the U.S.

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A Strange Historical Interval 

While the history of art is overwhelmingly a history of imaging the female nude, for a brief moment – and in Germany above all – it is instead a history of the male nude. Sascha Schneider was product and beneficiary of this unusual historical moment, one of the most fraught, contradictory and unresolved periods in the modern history of sexual regulation.

This strange historical interval, more developed in Germany in the early 20th century than anywhere else, goes by the English name of the Health and Hygiene Movement. In part a response to rapid industrialization, urban crowding, and the fear that modern life was weakening the inherent strength and drive of Germany’s youth, this reformist movement proposed a bold solution, at once forward and backward looking: it advocated a return to a classical conception of the gymnasium – of training the body as well as the mind through youthful exercise outdoors, preferably in the nude, all in pursuit of a natural health and vitality. Conjoining an idealized youthful beauty, sport and bold nudity, Freikörperkultur (which literally means free body culture) made paintings, photographs, sculptures, and especially public murals that today look strikingly homoerotic, merely part of the visual landscape of early twentieth-century Germany.

Adherents of the movement claimed that only through the confident and shameless exposure of strong, beautiful, male bodies, would young German men throw off the enervating effects of modern life and return to their natural vitality. The emphasis on male nudity had a simple rationale: not only had modern life ostensibly put the German ideal of “manliness” under pressure – a dynamic that would have tragic repercussions with the rise of the Nazis – but since the erotic dimension of female nudity was widely acknowledged, male nudity was paradoxically framed as inherently purer and untainted by eros, as an image of German manhood and its strength and power without any admixture of desire.

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The Cultural Conflict 

Yet at the same exact moment that Freikörperkultur made the sight of handsome nude young men ubiquitous in public spaces as diverse as stadiums and opera houses, another movement was brewing – the very first modern gay-rights movement. Led by such pioneering figures as Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institute for Sexual Research (which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933), this new political movement sought to make same-sex relationships entirely legal, in part through claiming that gay people were born gay, that same-sex desire was as natural to some as heterosexuality was to others. But whereas Freikörperkultur sought to generalize an (unacknowledged) homoerotic sensibility across all of German culture, this new politics essentially set up the first self-described homosexual minority in history. Thus a collision was set in motion between those who worked to make homosexuality more tolerable by generalizing a gay aesthetic (though distinctly not a gay politics) across the culture at large and those who named their homosexuality, who specifically sought civil rights under the guise of inborn and natural difference.

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Caught in the Conflict 

Schneider, who emblematized Freikörperkultur in almost every work he ever did, nonetheless came to understand the limits of a social world that accepted homoeroticism but not homosexuals. He was forced to resign from his prestigious post at Weimar University and flee to Italy.

Schneider’s fortunes as an artist were so intimately bound up with this historical interlude and its inherent contradictions that his career couldn’t survive its passing. When he died at age 57 in 1927, of complications from diabetes, his star was already dimming. By the end of World War II, he was largely forgotten. But through the efforts of one man, the German collector Hans-Gerd Röder, who became fascinated by this unknown figure while still in his twenties and began to seek out every work by Schneider he could find, a tattered reputation in modern art history has been painstakingly restored. Mr. and Mrs. Röder and their family have generously agreed to lend their collection of masterworks to the Leslie-Lohman Museum.

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The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first and only dedicated gay and lesbian art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve gay and lesbian art, and foster the artists who create it. The Museum has a permanent collection of over 22,000 objects, 6-8 major exhibitions annually, artist talks, film screenings, readings, THE ARCHIVE – a quarterly art newsletter, a membership program, and a research library. The Leslie-Lohman Museum is operated by the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported gay and lesbian artists for over 30 years. The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the gay and lesbian art community by informing, inspiring, entertaining and challenging all who enter its doors.”

Press release from The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

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Sascha Schneider. 'Hypnotism' 1904

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Sascha Schneider
Hypnotism
1904
Lithograph, published Breitkopf and Hartel, Leipzig
19.68 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'The Anarchist' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
The Anarchist
1894
Lithograph on paper
19.68 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Feeling of Dependency' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
Gefühl der Abhängigkeit (Feeling of Dependency)
1894
Chalk, charcoal and paints on cardboard
27.55 x 19.09 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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“Sascha Schneider (1870 -1927) was an artist who achieved mainstream critical and commercial success in turn-of-the-century Germany despite its striking homoeroticism. Appointed painting chair at the Weimar-Saxon Grand Ducal Art School, and a recipient of prestigious aristocratic commissions, Schneider was once a celebrated painter. Today he is practically unknown, even in Germany. If his name is mentioned at all, it usually is only as the illustrator of the hugely successful Karl May novels, a German adventure series set in the American West. This exhibition seeks to do more than resurrect a forgotten career. It asks why his art was less controversial a hundred years ago than it is today.

Turn-of-the-century Germany was a culture modeled on the classical past, reinvigorating classical ideals in art, architecture, and education. The Greek notion of the gymnasium, where young men developed both mind and body together, continues to be the German word for “high school” even today. Schneider, who actually built a body-building studio in his atelier, was an adherent of this classical ideal. And since this attitude toward mental and physical development was by no means an exclusively homosexual one, it was Schneider’s frank depiction of male beauty that made his art, paradoxically, so mainstream. This exhibition is dedicated to Hans-Gerd Röder, who has almost single-handedly safeguarded Schneider’s work. The art shown is from his collection.

Growing Stronger is a distillation of several of Schneider’s key themes. It features a bearded man whose face and pose are likely drawn from ancient Babylonian relief sculptures excavated by the Germans in the late 19th century and relocated to Germany. This quasi-Babylonian figure is depicted as warmly encouraging the strength of a nude youth. In its original early 20th century context, the image would have been seen as an example of the classical ideal of the gymnasium, where naked youth competed for glory. The paternalism evoked in the image, a celebration of masculine achievement, would have made it in no way controversial in Schneider’s time, when countless such images were painted and sculpted in public settings across the country.

In 1919 Schneider convinced the owner of a Dresden department store to let him have the top floor as a combined atelier and bodybuilding studio. Thus was born Schneider’s Kraft-Kunst-Institut (literally, strength-art-institute). The studio contained a complete gymnasium and some of the participants became models for his art. Privately, Schneider complained that the Institute’s recruits who could afford tuition were not the youthful types he desired.

From the spooky Oak Forest on Ruegen Island to the explicit War Cry, Schneider’s work reflects the tumultuous times in which he lived. Born a year before the unification of Germany in 1871, he saw its defeat in World War I and the onerous peace treaty Germany was forced to sign. Images of death, war, and foreboding are constant throughout his long career.

The image of an ephebic youth, poised at the brink of manhood, as the ideal figure of the classical past, became familiar throughout Germany in the early 20th century. This image of youth was also more broadly associated with modernity and change – the German variant of Art Nouveau. Strong and healthy, lifting weights, these youths were available as a virile, nationalistic metaphor for Germany itself carrying a range of associations, not all of them erotic.

Young men had been familiar subjects in Western art, ranging from Renaissance putti to revelers splashing at beaches or swimming holes in the early 20th century, and as such Schneider’s art reflects a much less guarded ethic governing the representation of youth than we see today. But notably, his subjects are not the realist nudes of an earlier era. Simplified, made over into a repetitious pattern, the body here is an exercise in modernity, in formal patterning and aestheticized contours. Whereas French modernism was generally built over the figure of the nude female, German modernity tended to instead invoke the body of a young man.”

Text from the exhibition web page

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Sascha Schneider. 'Athlete in Basic Position' 1907

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Sascha Schneider
Athlete in Basic Position
1907
Chalk on paper relined on canvas
83.85 x 42.91 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Rear View of Nude with Towel' c. 1920

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Sascha Schneider
Rear View of Nude with Towel
c. 1920
Oil on canvas
40.15 x 14.56 in
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
26 Wooster Street, Soho, New York City
T: 212-431-2609

Opening hours:
12pm-6pm Tuesday through Sunday.
The Museum is closed Monday and all major holidays.
Admission is free.

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art website

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10
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides: Nude Photography around 1900’ at the Museum for Photography, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 25th August 2013

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Many thankx to the Museum for Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE AND FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Léon Gimpel. 'The Sculptor' 1911

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Léon Gimpel
The Sculptor
1911
Autochrome
© Société française de photographie, Paris

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Photographer unknown. 'Act of Headstand' Before 1905

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Photographer unknown
Act of Headstand
Before 1905
Silver gelatin print
© Universität der Künste Berlin, Universitätsarchiv

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Photographer unknown. 'The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men's club, Munich' 1907

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Photographer unknown
The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men’s club, Munich
1907
From: Athletics Sports Illustrated Newspaper, 01/19/1907
© Niedersächsisches Institut für Sport-geschichte, Hannover

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Otto Skowranek. 'Olga Desmond - Sword Dance' 1908

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Otto Skowranek
Olga Desmond – Sword Dance
1908
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek

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Frank Eugene Smith. 'Adam and Eve' 1898/99

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Frank Eugene Smith
Adam and Eve
1898/99
Published in Camera Work, 1910
Heliogravure
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek

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“At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition The Naked Truth and More Besides presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motionstudy photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction. The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in the exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.

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The exhibition

A Commodity Market – The Machinery of the Nude

Since the invention of photography, the unclothed human body has been positioned – sitting, standing and reclining – in front of the camera. Large numbers of nude images, avidly pursued by censors, were in circulation as of the middle of the 19th century. By around 1900 nude photography had broken into the public sphere. Starting in 1880, photographs had become easier to produce and reproduce. They began to flood the market in various printed forms: alongside stereoviews, cartes de visite and single prints, nudes could now be found on postcards, trading cards, autograph cards, posters and in magazines, books and films. Nude photographs were promoted, ordered, sold and sent. They were published for a large audience under the guise of artistic or academic activity, and people’s viewing habits, their gaze on the naked body – their own or someone else’s – began to change. In this process it became clear that photography played a significant role in the marketing of the naked body, but also in people’s self-understanding. Today’s arbitrary use of scantily-clad models to advertise goods is but one phenomenon that continues what was emerging with the visual material of the turn of the 20th century.

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“For Artistic Purposes Only“ – Model Studies and Photographic Academies

Nude pictures were reaching the public as “photographs after nature.” In the process, the artistic content or the intended use of the photographs was always emphasized. If we were to judge by the quantity of materials said to be produced solely for artists, then the largest professional group around 1900 would have been composed of them. “For artistic purposes only” was the password to uncensored production of nude photography. For many artists, photographic depictions actually did replace calling in live models. Art academies created a reference collection with nude studies. In many cases, works of painting or sculpture can be directly traced back to a particular photograph. Taken in classrooms that tended toward sobriety, most of the poses were borrowed from the art-historical cannon. Countless Venus and Apollo figures, cherubs, Atlases, Horatii, Graces and boys in the classical style populate the portfolios of the period. A practice of child nudes developed in the slipstream of the photographic academies. Ostensibly, these were created to show the angelic innocence of children of all ages. Photographers also documented classes in studios and at academies. Thus we see photographs of entire student groups with their nude model, and there are also fine examples of the triad of artist, model and work.

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(Visual) Yearnings – Ideals from Arcadia

The unclothed body was first and foremost an object of erotic associations, and they were rendered by photography in more or less subtle ways. While a large audience enjoyed the Arcadian idylls of Sicily without coming into a conflict with the law, there was likely an even larger public buying the goods “under the table” or only “per order,” potentially becoming guilty of immorality. Under Wilhelm II, male friendships were cherished as pillars of the system. Homosexuality, by contrast, was the subject of heated debate, its reception mixed. With this in mind, the vast array of potentially homoerotic photographs that were produced is revealing.

Wilhelm von Gloeden counts among the best-known practitioners of a kind of nude photography that gave voice to longings for an idyll that was generally Mediterranean or classical in nature. His photographs enjoyed tremendous commercial success around 1900. Numerous fellow photographers, most of them anonymous, began to photograph young and old satyrs, Ephebes, Apollos and shepherd boys and girls, staging the journey to Arcadia for the camera. Their images were published in such places as the first homoerotic magazine Der Eigene alongside poems, prose and essays. At the same time, these nude photographs were added to ethnographic collections (for example as Sicilian folklore), were discussed in the medical context and were used by (body) reformers to communicate an ideal.

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Vividly Immoral – Censored and Pornographic Photography

Since the invention of photography, photographs have been produced that are erotic or pornographic in nature. Crude or more sophisticated fashions, fantasies, means of distribution and censorship changed depending on the period. Around 1900, censorship in Germany generally went hand in hand with the so-called Lex Heinze, a newly added paragraph that forbade public exhibition of material classified as immoral. When enforced, the censorship effort resulted in the impounding by police of thousands of images from individual distribution businesses and studios. But in the face of the new, ever-growing production of nude photographs, the aim of gaining the upper hand over the flood of images was destined to fail.

Material from private collections is rare today but it would have been found in a large number of ordinary households. Aficionados put together albums in which they showed their predilections using a combination of photographs, drawings or caricatures, and sometimes writing. Even the police kept an exemplary inventory of nude photography which they collected in albums. In Germany there remains only the album from the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, whose large format, elaborately stamped leather binding, and careful arrangement of the diverse material make it clear just how significant nude photography was to the guardians of the law, too.

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“The photographic plate is the retina of scholars“ – The Nude Body in Science

A great number of scientific fields made use of photography in their systematic mapping out of the visible world. The naked body was measured, compared and assessed. Norms were defined and aberrations shown. The new, photographically mediated consciousness of physical constitutions made itself felt in the way people saw themselves and their contemporaries. But the seeming objectivity of the medium also abetted discriminatory views. The photography of movement played a particular role in the photographic experiments that sought to describe and unravel the human body in all its aspects. Special devices were used to record the consecutive positions of motor activities. In addition to movement in everyday life and in sports, photographers also documented freely invented movement and movement resulting from disease. Eadweard Muybridge and Ottomar Anschütz together with Albert Londe count among the best-known representatives of the photographic anatomy study and the systematic recording of movement.

Using special equipment, photographers provided physicians with illustrations of diseases and physical ailments. Image material was gathered on a regular basis and used in medical research and teaching. The often highly suggestive visual language of the time is also reflected in scientific publications. Many of the diagnostic findings and display formats from around 1900 seem outdated today.

When photography became more compatible with travelling, ethnographers brought back to Europe a large number of photographs of the sometimes unclothed inhabitants of colonies they were visiting and exploring. And as the ethnographic nude became more pervasive, posing for the camera became more common. Postures and props were modeled on recognized artworks as well as ideas about foreign cultures that were prevalent in Europe. Photographic comparisons were designed to emphasize particular characteristics of ethnic groups or body types: here, technical tricks, such as using different lighting, backgrounds and poses, came into play. This kind of image material fueled chauvinist and racist delusions, which became widely published.

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“Naked People – a Cheerful Future“ – Nude Photography and the Cult of the Body around 1900

At the turn of the century, questions about the body were quickly gaining in importance. Were corsets desirable? The photographs of corset marks on naked female bodies argue against them. What good was exercise? Photographs of trained naked bodies documented the benefits. What did a normal person look like, and what did the ideal body look like? With nude photography printed in numerous magazines and books, people began to develop an eye for these matters. With more and more images becoming available, people became more discerning when it came to their body versus foreign bodies. The body could be compared and evaluated. Ideals spread through powerful imagery and gained an increasing influence on individual body culture.

During the reform movement people, especially those in the German Empire, were drawn to the open air. They enjoyed so-called light baths, whose benefits were discussed at length and proven with photographs. An emerging nudism used photography to demonstrate a deliberately relaxed association with one another. Scantily clad or unclothed, stars soon had their pictures taken onstage, becoming famous when their images were used in advertising and turned into items of mass distribution. Their postcards and cartes de visite were precursors of the pin-up. Several of these images bring to mind hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet, among the nudists of the turn of the century were also publishers such as Richard Ungewitter, whose racist theories, based in folk identity, lent decidedly ideological undertones to the nude images they used in their argumentation.

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Passions of Art Photography – Pictorialist Nudes

Beginning in the 1890s many photographers sought to elevate their craft to the status of art with the aid of particular printing techniques and strategies of image creation. Nude photography, certainly a pleasurable pastime for such ambitious art photographers as the so-called Pictorialists, produced a wide variety of motifs. In the prestigious magazine Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz published a vast number of such images, including works by Robert Demachy, Constant Puyo, Heinrich Kühn, Annie Brigman and Edward Steichen. Among the Pictorialist nudes are expressive mise-en-scenes, some of them self-portraits of the photographers, whose subject matter was by turns poetic and symbolic. Besides this work, there certainly are images that are conventionally pleasant or academic and that stand out from the common material mostly due to their high print quality. Their pictorial techniques serve an atmosphere of everything from playful coquetry to dramatic religiousness. As the clearly preferred pose of wrestlers was that of a poet or thinker, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker can be seen as bringing together the esthetics of sculpture, Pictorialism and athlete photography.”

Press release from the Museum of Photography website

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Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903

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Emile Bayard
Untitled
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34
1903

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Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903

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Emile Bayard
Untitled
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34
1903

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How many artfully-draped centaurs, bacchantes, and nymphs does it take to make a dirty magazine? Only one early 20th-century periodical has the answer: The Aesthetic Nude (Le Nu Esthétique)… Illustrated entirely with unclothed models enacting quasi-mythological imagery, the covers alone range from a rapturous Leda and the Swan to a centaur’s semi-consensual abduction of a nymph (above). Inside each issue appear even more views of studio models in increasingly far-fetched poses, all of which were ostensibly meant to supplant the live model in studio practice. It’s not clear that anyone ever copied these compositions in paint, but the effort that went into cutting out the photos in lively shapes, and the publication’s run of several years (c. 1902-06), suggests a market existed for it!

These ‘aesthetic nudes’ beg the question of what constituted nudity, as opposed to nakedness in the late 19th and early 20th century. Was it simply the academic and mythological guise that made these images acceptable, even collectible?

(Text from the ARTicle, Art Institute of Chicago blog)

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Photographer unknown. 'Two women on a carousel Pig' c. 1900

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Photographer unknown
Two women on a carousel Pig
c. 1900
Silver gelatin print
© Collection GERARD LEVY, Paris

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Albert Londe. '15 Chronophotographs of Charcot's son / Charcot plays football' c. 1890

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Albert Londe
15 Chronophotographs of Charcot’s son / Charcot plays football
c. 1890
Gelatin silver print
© École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; Reprofoto: Jean-Michel Lapelerie

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Photographer unknown. 'Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked' 1906

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Photographer unknown
Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked
1906
Lichtdruck
© Sammlung Robert Lebeck, Berlin

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Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?). 'Male Nude in Tree' c. 1900

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Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?)
Male Nude in Tree
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
© Berlinische Galerie

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Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. 'Transparency' 1904

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Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock
Transparency
1904
Salter paper print
© Münchner Stadtmuseum

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Heinrich Kühn. 'Female Nude' c. 1906

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Heinrich Kühn
Female Nude
c. 1906
Bromoil print
© Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin

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Museum of Photography
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
T: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tues – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Museum of Photography website

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27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

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“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

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The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual/ homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin/yang is both/and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black/white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations/ encounters/ experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either/or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

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Many thankx to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Derrick Cross
1983
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Two Tulips
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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“A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Untitled
c. 1973
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p.5, Introduction

2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day- Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.11

3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p.9

4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty- The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp.175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p.164

7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p.8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.20

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p.86

10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24

13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p.331

15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p.208

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Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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