Posts Tagged ‘French sculptor


Review: ‘Louise Bourgeois: Late Works’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th November 2012 – 11th March 2013

Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists
13 October 2012 – 14 April 2013



'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012


Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012



“What counts, our whole purpose, is to try to understand what we are about, to scrutinise ourselves… Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.

“The fears of the past were connected with the functions of the body, they reappear through the body. For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.”

Louise Bourgeois


“What images can art find for depicting femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eye-line of another gender?” Hughes questioned in a commentary that implied no precedents. “… [Her] influence on young artists has been enormous.”

Robert Hughes quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online


“Yes, there are the oft-told stories of the father and the mistress, but it is Bourgeois’s intense love of her mother and her [mother’s] death that completely transformed her life… The art ultimately became about her never-ending grief… and her continuing desire  as a woman. It’s still so potent; not just as a memory, but as a constant.”

Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO of Heide quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online



Tough Love

This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body. As the quotation above by Bourgeois states, her body became her sculpture.

I am no expert on the work of the artist. But what I will try and enunciate are my feelings when viewing the exhibition. Firstly, I thought the drawings by Louise Bourgeois in Heide II were the most magical thing that I saw all day; they seemed to be the well spring of her creativity, the initial thought sketched quickly and imperiously. Secondly, series such as Dawn (2007, below) and The Waiting Hours (2007), assemblages of cut fragments of her dresses and other textiles used to create spiral three-dimensional realities, were the most beautiful, peaceful Zen based works in the exhibition possessing as they did a calm, resolved, mandala-like presence. Lastly, the main group of sculptures were, for me, hard to look at. A series of severed heads, dismembered bodies, tapestry fragments, spiders, bones, an orrery-like planetarium, pendulous objects stuck with needles, kitchen implements and the house brought back memories of my own childhood.

I was born in the late 1950’s to a mother who didn’t really want to have children, to a mother who was already being beaten up by an abusive husband before she was even married, who lived on a remote, isolated farm in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine what my mother went through in those early years raising two children – with no hope of help or escape, with no women’s refuge to flee to, stuck there doing her best to protect her children and herself from a violent, mentally ill man. You cannot imagine the torment I went through for the first 18 years of my life, trying to protect my mother when I was old enough, creating my own worlds to escape the reality of the present (which is why I probably became an artist, to still create my own worlds). There were good times at Christmas and bonfire night, but the best part was growing up on the land, learning the rhythms of nature, learning to drive on a tractor and combine harvester, but always in the back of your mind was the instant of abuse lurking around the corner, the inherent violence of life. It is only now, as I have grown older, that I can truly appreciate the dire predicament that my mother was in and acknowledge a profound sense of gratitude towards her protection of me as a baby and child.

That is why this exhibition is, for me, tough love. The emotions of Bourgeois’ sculptures are close to the bone. As Jason Smith observes, “Bourgeois saw her mother as rational, patient and stoic in her nurturing, in contrast to the temperament of her father whom she regarded as irrationally emotional, unreasonable and capable of psychological cruelty. Bourgeois became aware at an early age that she was living in a time and social environment in which women and their identities were subordinate to men.”As Bourgeois says of the spider (her mother), “she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.” This is what my mother did as well, at great cost to herself.

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to curator and Director Jason Smith and Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image.



'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012


Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012



“The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.”

Louise Bourgeois, from Ode to my Mother, 1995



Louise Bourgeois. 'Spider' 1997 (detail)


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Spider (detail)
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, bone
449.6 × 665.5 × 518.2cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY
Photograph: John Gollings 2012


Louise Bourgeois. 'Dawn' 2007 (detail)


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Dawn (detail)
Fabric book, 12 pages
12 1/4 x 9 3/4 inches each



Around 1996, aged 85, Bourgeois began to mine her closets for the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime, and use them to make sculpture and ‘fabric drawings’, continuing her lifelong recall and articulations of familial dysfunction, desire and fear, anger and remorse, isolation and connectedness. In the recycling and reconstruction of her clothing and collected textiles Bourgeois intensified her work’s expression of the human body and of life’s episodes (those as daughter, wife, mother, woman, artist). The materiality of these works testifies to the impression of Bourgeois’ past on her psyche and on reparative acts of making through which her past was reconciled in her present. The beauty of the past for Bourgeois resided in the nurturing, repairing, fortifying and protective tendencies of her mother, which she aligned with the processes of stitching and assembling.

Blue Days (1996) is one of a number of works in which Bourgeois suspended, stuffed and shaped her dresses and shirts, sometimes adding abstract sculptural elements like the red glass sphere that operates here like a nucleus around which the new sculptural bodies circulate. With its intimate relation to the skin and contours of the body, to time and seasons, clothing was used for its power to summon memory: ‘You can retell your life … by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like the weather, the ocean, changing all the time.’

In other works Bourgeois’ fragmented figures and anatomical parts give physical form to anxieties rising from unfulfilled desire, acts of betrayal, losses or thwarted communication. Couple IV embodies the dark confusion of the child happening upon the sexual embrace of the adults. The copulating, decapitated lovers appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ and signal Bourgeois’ fraught obsession not only with the infidelities of her father, but also with sex itself. For Bourgeois there is ‘a fatal attraction not towards one or the other, but to the phenomena of copulation … I am exasperated by the vision of the copulating couple, and it makes me so furious … that I chop their heads [off]. This is it … I turn violent. The sewing is a defence. I am so afraid of the things I might do. The defence is to do the opposite of what you want to do.’

Louise Bourgeois’ practice was an elaborate articulation of an existence in which the sculpting world and the living world were one. Her late works summoned the past and confronted the present, and the passage of time, by using the very garments in which the experiences of her life, loves and longings resided.

Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO, Heide Museum of Modern Art. “Louise Bourgeois,” on The Melbourne Review website, November 2012 [Online] Cited 26/02/2013 no longer available online


Louise Bourgeois. 'Blue Days' 1996


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Blue Days
cloth, steel, glass
292.1 × 205.7 × 241.3cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney


Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney


Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison (detail)
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney



Note that Femme Maison and other artworks are encased in ‘cells’. In one sense, the cell encases and protects the artwork; however, Louise Bourgeois’ intention was to use the cell also as a way of containing the memory held within the work.

The hybrid form of Femme Maison – with its dual translations to ‘woman house’ or housewife – appeared in drawings, paintings and sculpture, and in degrees of abstraction and figuration, from the mid 1940s onwards. In this key late work the textured fabric affirms the central relationship of woman with the domestic space. Stories of the house and the home defined Bourgeois’ identity. The architectural house and its contents – especially the table, bed and chair – and the familial home and its occupants, were the structures that shaped Bourgeois’ unstable sense of self, and her relationships with others. This work plays on the house literally growing out of the woman’s body (the nurturing mother) or, conversely, pinning her dismembered body to the ground, registering the paralysing power of fear, and recalling a painful childhood.


Louise Bourgeois. 'Knife Figure' 2002


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Knife Figure
fabric, steel, wood
22.2 × 76.2 × 19.1cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney


Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust


Louise Bourgeois. 'Couple IV' 1997


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Couple IV
fabric, leather, stainless steel, plastic
50.8 × 165.1 × 77.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney


Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Tapestry, aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY.


Louise Bourgeois. 'Cinq' 2007


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
fabric, stainless steel
61 × 35.6 × 35.6cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney



Heide Museum of Modern Art is proud to present two major exhibitions featuring the work of Louise Bourgeois. The first, Louise Bourgeois: Late Works includes over twenty, key works direct from the late artist’s studio in New York. The second exhibition, Louise Bourgeois and Australian Artists presents a selection of works by contemporary Australian artists who have been inspired by Bourgeois alongside prints and drawings from her vast graphic oeuvre. Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was one of the most inventive, provocative and influential artists of the twentieth century. Although her work has been exhibited extensively overseas, it has rarely been seen in Australia, and only once in significant depth, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1995 in an exhibition curated by then NGV curator Jason Smith. Louise Bourgeois: Late Works focuses on Bourgeois’s use of fabric in sculpture and what she termed ‘fabric drawings’. A preoccupation with memory and time, human relationships, fear and its annihilation, sexuality and the erotic body, are all emphases of Bourgeois’ final works.

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works is the first exhibition in Australia to survey the work of this profoundly important artist since her death in 2010 and has been curated by Jason Smith, now Heide Director & CEO – in close collaboration with the Bourgeois studio, New York – as a follow up to the 1995 exhibition at the NGV. Focusing on the final fifteen years of Bourgeois’ career, the exhibition examines the use of fabric in her works, and includes 18 sculptures, two suites of ‘fabric drawings’, watercolours, embroidered texts and lithographs never before seen in Australia. In the fabric works the processes of deconstructing and reconstructing, are applied to the contents of Bourgeois’ closets. The recycling of her garments, collected textiles and tapestry fragments intensifies her work’s expression of self-portraiture, and the profound personal experiences that defined her life and art.

Fabric was important to Louise Bourgeois, who grew up in her parents’ tapestry making business. In 1996, in her mid-eighties, Bourgeois began to transform the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime into sculptures and ‘fabric drawings’. For her, sewing was an act of healing or reparation, linked to memories of her mother who ‘would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or a petit point’, an image of calm amid more distressing family dynamics.

Central to the exhibition is Spider, 1997 one of the Bourgeois’ Cells sculptures which is dominated, enclosed and protected by a gargantuan spider – a recurring and powerful motif in the artist’s work. Bourgeois created her spider sculptures partly in tribute to her mother, saying: ‘Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. Spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother’. The female body and female subjectivity are concentrations in the exhibition.

The familial, biographical stories that provided life-long fuel for Bourgeois’ art are well known: her parents’ tapestry workshop in which she learnt the value of art as a form of reparation; her father’s public infidelity; her mother’s betrayal and early death; her complex sense of abandonment; her constant analysis of self; her belief in art a form of exorcism and as a potential reconciliation with the past.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the haunting Couple IV 1997, depicting a pair of copulating, and decapitated, lovers. The embracing figures are cast in the black of mourning, and appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ in the vitrine. The work signals Bourgeois’ fraught obsession with the past, the infidelities of her father, and with sex itself.

Surrealism and pathos combine in Bourgeois’ smaller, intimate works like Knife figure 2002 and Untitled 2002. Here we see a dark side of the domestic with the knife and the whisk looming threateningly large in relation to the prone, dismembered bodies. In their colouration and homely material qualities they inspire tenderness and protection, yet as with so many of Bourgeois’ bodies, each remains cut off from the world and isolated to deal with its fate.”

Press release from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website


Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists

This exhibition looks at relationships, both real and imagined, between the art of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and that of ten Australian artists, in the rare context of a solo Bourgeois exhibition at Heide. Some pay direct homage to Bourgeois’ work or consider similar themes, while the connection of others registers more instinctually, on the level of a shared psychological intensity. Many of the works are rooted in memory and emotion, with a core that remains indecipherable – they do not illustrate or explain.

Forged regardless of fashion or fortune, Bourgeois’ oeuvre gave several artists in this exhibition the impetus to use personal subject matter as a creative source in the late 1980s and 1990s, an era when a cool, detached conceptualism dominated. Many share Bourgeois’ subjective focus and use the human body as a vehicle for self-expression, while for others her work’s formal precision and constant reinvention inspire. All respond to the exemplary fusion in Bourgeois’ art between inner compulsion and formal discipline, instinct and intelligence.

The Australian artists are Del Kathryn Barton, Pat Brassington, Janet Burchill, Carolyn Eskdale, Brent Harris, Joy Hester, Kate Just, Patricia Piccinini, Heather B. Swann.

Statement from the from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website


Janet Burchill. 'Following the Blind Leading the Blind' 1997


Janet Burchill (Australian, b. 1955)
Following the Blind Leading the Blind
Synthetic polymer and enamel paint on wood
144.6 × 142.6 × 29.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased 1999



“The grid is a very peaceful thing, because nothing can go wrong … everything is complete. There is no room for anxiety … everything has a place. Everything is welcome.”

Louise Bourgeois


I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’ work for the first time about fifteen years ago in Los Angeles. Yes I am a CRAZY fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried…

These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art. Encounters when the artwork is somehow so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses … an experience of recognition, relief and awe that informs one’s deeper creative makeup.

Del Kathryn Barton



Del Kathryn Barton. 'no other side' 2012


Del Kathryn Barton (Australian, b. 1972)
no other side
(one part of nine)
Dupion silk and embroidery cotton
9 parts, each 42 × 45cm
In collaboration with Karen Barton
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney



“I guess every artist has other practices that they aspire to. Louise Bourgeois’ practice – by which I mean the combination of the works, the way that they were made, the artist and the way that she conducted herself – is such a practice for me. The way that she worked for so long, and continued to develop her work in good times and bad, as well as the way that her works are so much of their times but at the same time not quite in sync with them inspires me. The fact that I hardly know the work she made prior to her fifties demonstrates the truth of the idea that art is a lifetime project that can continue to evolve as an artist matures. And then, of course, there is the work itself.”

Patricia Piccinini



Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze


Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising


Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze (detail)


Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising (detail)



“The massive aorta-like The Uprising, with its labyrinthine musculature, is a much stranger work. It establishes a bridge between the Vespa stags and the transgenic creatures, while being simultaneously amorphous and representational. Corporeal and mechanical, it suggests the plastic, porous, and uncertain world of the new nature that is at the core of the figurative works. For this reason it is physically sited at the boundary between natural history and art history…”

Juliana Engberg



Patricia Piccinini. 'Nectar' 2012


Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, refrigerator edition
1/6 83 × 48 × 51cm
Courtesy of the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and Haunch of Venison, London and New York



“Taking her cue from the vague boundaries of the biotech world, ‘where it is difficult to figure exactly where the good becomes tainted and the bad becomes justifiable’, Piccinini considers her own hybrid creations, however abject or grotesque, as lovable, associated with fecundity, growth and optimism. Like Bourgeois, she presents strange couplings of the animal and the human, that despite their de- formations always convey intimacy and warmth. Here the title Nectar suggests that there may be something nourishing in what might otherwise appear as a failed experiment.” (Text from educational pdf)


Pat Brassington. 'House guest #2' 2007


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
House guest #2


Patt Brassington. 'The Guardian' 2009


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
The Guardian
Pigment print on paper edition
6/8 112 × 87.5cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009



Heide Museum of Modern Art
7, Templestowe Road
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
(Heide II and Heide III)
Tue – Fri 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm

Heide Museum of Modern Art website

Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art construction of ‘Spider’ video


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

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

Curators: Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold



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


Martin Ferdinand Quadal (Moravian-Austrian, 1736-1811)
Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude
© Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna


Joseph-Désiré Court (French, 1797-1865) 'Death of Hippolytus' 1825


Joseph-Désiré Court (French, 1797-1865)
Death of Hippolytus
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération


François-Léon Benouville. 'Achills Zorn' 1847


François-Léon Benouville (French, 1821-1859)
Achills Zorn
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier



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

(Heinrich Heine, Travel Pictures, 1826)



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.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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.


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


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


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


Anonymous maker
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


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


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Age of Bronze
© Kunsthaus Zurich


Anton Kolig. 'Seated Youth (morning)' 1919


Anton Kolig (Austrian, 1886-1950)
Seated Youth (morning)
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 406



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.”


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.”


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.



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.”


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


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

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

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Age of Bronze
© Kunsthaus Zürich

Heimo Zobernig (Austrian, b. Austrian)
© VBK, Vienna, 2012


Paul Cézanne. 'Seven Bathers' c. 1900


Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Seven Bathers
c. 1900
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel


Edvard Munch. 'Bathing Men' 1915


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Men
Munch Museum, Oslo
© The Munch Museum/The Munch Ellingsen Group/VBK, Vienna 2012


Wilhelm von Gloeden. 'Flute Concert' 1905


Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Flute Concert
Verlag Adolph Engel, private collection


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


Richard Gerstl (Austrian, 1883-1908)
Nude Self-portrait with Palette
© Leopold Museum, Wien


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


Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918)
‘”Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd)’ [“Preacher” (Nude with teal shirt)]
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2365



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.


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 radicalised 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.”


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.

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


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


Bruce Nauman (American, b. 1941)
Untitled (Five Marching Men)
© Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / VBK Wien 2012


Gilbert & George. 'Spit Law' 1997


Gilbert & George (Gilbert Prousch, British born Italy 1943 and George Passmore, British b. 1942)
Spit Law
© Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris / Salzburg


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


Elmgreen & Dragset (Michael Elmgreen born 1961; Copenhagen, Denmark and Ingar Dragset born 1969; Trondheim, Norway)
Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
© Courtesy Galleri Nocolai Wallner / VBK Wien 2012


Thomas Ruff. 'nudes vg 02' 2000


Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
“nudes vg 02”
Ed. 3/5
© Private collection Cofalka, Austria/with the kind support of agpro – austrian gay professionals
© VBK, Wien 2012


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


Jean Cocteau (French, 1889-1963)
Male Couple
Illustration for Jean Genet’s ‘Querelle de Brest’

© Private collection © VBK, Wien 2012


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


Louise Bourgeois (French, 1911-2010)
Fillette (Sweeter Version)
1968, cast 1999
© Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland © VBK, Wien 2012


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


Pierre & Gilles (Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard)
Vive la France [Long live France]
© Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris


Andy Warhol. 'Querelle' c. 1982


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
c. 1982
© Privatsammlung/ VBK, Wien 2012



Leopold Museum
Museums Quartier, Museumsplatz 1
1070 Vienna, Austria

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Leopolod Museum 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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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