What's left to say about the nude in art?

Two Declining Nudes, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, 2014
Blonde Girl, Deborah Druick

We all know that artists have been interpreting the naked body for as long as art has been produced. Maybe this is because our relationship with our bodies is constant and always open to new and varied interpretation. The infant body, the growing body, the female, the male body, the aging body are all subjects to observe and visually define. Sexuality and gender politics are subjects of discussion and debate wherever you might turn. With popular culture and television presenting programs on cosmetic surgery, the next top models and biggest losers, we are forced to evaluate body image all the time. Obesity is a health issue with a continually growing worldwide population.

Sexualisation of the body and particular body parts, the female breast for example, take us on a different path altogether. The body today is still being politicized with sexual violence in warfare as a means of control and domination.

So it is with a certain skepticism that I read of an exhibition “ The Nude in the XX and XXI Century that will be opening at Sotheby’s London at the end of this month. How is it possible to make this subject fresh, engaging and different? The Sotheby’s website describes the show this way:

“ Curated by Jane Neal, The XX and XXI Century comprises work from a selection of artists whose practices engage with the historic iconography of the nude and who use the subject to consider the place of the body within our changing cultural landscape. With the increased intersection of the fine art and fashion worlds visible throughout Western media, the concept of “Body Beautiful” has become something to aspire to – a new icon for our age- but one robbed of religious significance, romantic context, or intellectual import. In reaction to this act of dehumanization artists have focused on The Nude as a ground upon which to project desires and a motif through which they might explore sexuality, gender politics, and the relationship between the body and society. For artists the Nude remains an endless source of inspiration, occupying a unique place in art history as well as our collective conscious.

No religion, no romanticism, no intellectual import: This is the new way of looking at nudity in art. I’m not sure I’m sold, but I look forward to the experience.

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