December 2016 – January 2017

Noted
by Julie Ewington

‘Nude: Art from the Tate Collection’
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, until 5 February

Hans Bellmer, The Doll (1936), painted aluminium on brass base, 635 x 307 x 305 mm, purchased 1969. © Estate of Hans Bellmer. Image © Tate, London 2016.

At last – a truly intelligent blockbuster. Nude is a splendid assembly of various nakednesses in paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs spanning 200 years. Thoughtfully bundled into eight roughly chronological sections – from ‘The Historical Nude’ of the 18th and 19th centuries to ‘Body Politics’ and ‘The Vulnerable Body’ from the 1970s to the 2000s – the exhibition runs the gamut from Lord Leighton’s pearly The Bath of Psyche (1890) to David Hockney’s tender prints showing gay couples (1966) to John Coplans’ magnificent photographic ruminations on his own ageing body (1994). Nude is as inclusive as it is eclectic, studded with treats like a Christmas pudding. And, as all blockbusters must be, it’s a show for the whole family.

Why? Nude is frank and sane, equally unapologetic about the mythological baggage veiling late Victorian nudes (sometimes with actual paint), and Francis Bacon’s rugged eroticism, and the open challenge of Barkley L Hendricks’ Family Jules: NNN (No Naked Niggahs) of 1974, all puns intended. Here the human body, the canonical subject of Western art, is considered both within the academic tradition of the nude and the more recent “naked portrait”. We’ve known “nude” and “naked” since television art guru John Berger took on his predecessor Kenneth Clark in the early 1970s, but this openly populist exercise skilfully weaves together a wealth of recent ideas, especially from feminist artists and writers. The Guerrilla Girls’ famous poster Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get into the Met. Museum? (1989) neatly sums up these assertions, so it’s wonderful to see two veteran American feminists hung together: Alice Neel’s Kitty Pearson (1973) is one of several “you can leave your hat on” works in the show, and Sylvia Sleigh’s Paul Rosano Reclining (1974) is quite as saccharine as Lord Leighton but far more honest in its desiring gaze; Louise Bourgeois’ works on paper are in turn irreverent and passionate, but the sculpture Arched Figure (1993, cast 2010), the AGNSW’s major recent acquisition, gives us a male nude that is extraordinary in its corporality.

Which brings me to the showstopper: Rodin’s marble The Kiss (1901–04) in a cavernous double-height space. Sparkling, spotlit, still astonishing, The Kiss compels centrifugal circling, complete attention; you notice only later the variously astringent, lush and feral works on paper surrounding it, including JMW Turner’s once-scandalous erotic watercolours, the ones that the dismayed John Ruskin “kept as evidence of a failure of mind only”. This room alone is worth the visit.

Curated jointly by the Tate’s Emma Chambers and the AGNSW’s Justin Paton, Nude is an exemplary instance of the collaborative exhibition projects that were so impressive in 2016. It triumphantly pools ideas and expertise, as much as works of art. Don’t miss it.

Julie Ewington

Julie Ewington is an independent writer, curator and broadcaster, now living in Sydney.

Cover

December 2016 – January 2017

In This Issue

Image of Patrick White

The art of biography

The author stays out of the picture, and other personal rules of writing

Image of Pauline Hanson

A pox on both your houses

How can the major parties address the rise of populism in Australia?

Illustration

Australia divided

The electorate has fractured into three economic and cultural zones

Image of Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory by Georgia O’Keefe

A new world for the making

‘O’Keefe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism’ brings together three giants of modernism


Read on

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms

Image of Hugh Grant in ‘Maurice’

Merchant Ivory connects gilded surfaces with emotional depth

Restraint belies profundity in ‘Maurice’, ‘Howards End’ and more


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