While the unclothed human figure is one of art’s oldest and most captured subjects, it still manages to attract great attention and ignite fervent debate.
The Naked and the Nude brings together dozens of unclothed bodies from Christchurch Art Gallery’s collection, from languid academic nudes to the fragmented bodies of recent art.
When the Robert McDougall Art Gallery – Christchurch Art Gallery’s earlier incarnation – was established in 1932, its collections contained many images of nude and naked bodies, reflecting the tastes of the late-nineteenth century.
George Baloghy Antipodean Olympia 1981. Enamel on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
"As we delve into the history of the nude, what we are actually looking at is what different periods have considered right and proper to peer at in the name of art’ says Gallery director Jenny Harper.
"The Naked and the Nude isn’t just a show of art that speaks of nudity. It is also a show of nudes that tells us a lot about art, about the allure of images, the power of suggestion, and how art has changed over the last century and a half.
"When we use the term “naked”, we are referring to being deprived of clothes. It’s a word that almost generates embarrassment of such a condition. We regularly speak of ”the naked truth” and ”the naked soul”, which suggests that nakedness is not just a physical state but a spiritual and psychological one.
"The word ”nude”, on the other hand, carries no uncomfortable overtone. The image it projects is not of a defenseless body, but of a confident body. Culturally, the nude in art raises issues associated with the human condition: status, sexuality, eroticism and desire, feminism, objectification and, at times, voyeurism. Context is all important," she says.
This exhibition highlights the growing tension between the nude and the naked – between works of art that idealise the body and those that try to tell it like it is.
Steve Carr, A Shot in the Dark (The Bachelor), 2008.
C-type print mounted on dibond.
Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, purchased 2008.
Image courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland.
The Naked and The Nude runs at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu until 18 April 2010.