Archive for June, 2014

UA1-WA:P4-p4-Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture

I wrote about Henry Moore for a Research Point on abstract sculpture back in Part 3 (see 15-Dec-2013). Wanting to avoid too much repetition I’ve decided to meet this current requirement by looking at particular aspects of works previously mentioned.

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Henry Moore
Reclining figure: Angles
1980
bronze, green patina
113.3 x 219.6 x 156.8 cm; 10.8 cm bronze base
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/6.1981/

This work was created late in Moore’s career, but the subject recurs throughout his work. Examples are included in his textile work – the large wall hanging Reclining figure of 1949 (linen printed by Ascher, see TEX 21.1 on http://www.henry-moore.org/hmf/press/press-releases/henry-moore/past-press-releases/henry-moore-textiles/henry-moore-textiles) and Reclining Figures 1944-46, which includes a body position very similar to the later focus sculpture (TEX 8.2 on http://www.henry-moore.org/pg/exhibitions/archive/2009/henry-moore-textiles-at-pallant-house-gallery).

In my earlier post I found the distortions in the body somewhat unnerving, and suggested “this work seems to have no reason or meaning beyond Moore’s interest in working with volumes and forms”. Given my more recent studies, can my previous views stand?

First I should note a potential fallacy underlying my comment on the similarity of Moore’s reclining nudes of the mid 1940s and forty years later. A superficial similarity does not mean the works come from the same interests and point of view with no development or progression (which statement itself should not imply that development or progression are necessarily good or essential).

In recent exercises I have studied the reclining nude through art history. The focus work here is part of the continuation of that history, however I believe it does not trigger many of the issues within a feminist critique. Moore’s figure is not an idealization of the female form. It is a distortion, which could be interpreted as a violent act, but I see this as more using the figure as a known starting point in an exploration of volumes. The figure is not asleep or submissive or challenging in its gaze (if one stands “in front” to give the viewpoint of the classical painting). Instead she turns to direct her gaze elsewhere, to the side and over the viewer. Personally I don’t see this as a particularly seductive or erotic figure, although I note the polishing effect of the many hands which must have touched her breast over the years, entirely removing any patina.

The distortion of the figure could be related to Moore’s interest in surrealism, in particular a concern with metamorphosis. In his sketchbooks Moore could morph bones, stones or other natural items towards a human form. There is also an element of abstraction, although in this example the human figure is still clearly evident. For Moore “abstraction was a tool, not an objective” (Causey, 2010).

moore_agnsw_09The head is small compared to the bulk of the body and the facial features generalised, but there is still a clear facial plane, lines of hair, and an interesting echo and reversal in the shaping of the hair and the nose.

Aristide Maillol La Montagne [The mountain] 1937 Lead

Aristide Maillol
La Montagne [The mountain] 1937
Lead
http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=116514

Earlier works by Moore can show a fragility, even an anguish, perhaps “responding to the horrors of war” (Ure-Smith, 2011). The focus work, created decades later, has instead a strength, a monumentality. It seems to me anchored, and reminds me of Maillol’s mountainous figure (see 13-Jun-2014). However transplanted to Sydney, on a flat grassy area just before the slope to the harbour, I can’t claim that Moore’s figure is reflected in its landscape.

Moore had a close and loving relationship with his mother. One could read into the long line of the backbone in the focus work a trace from Moore’s rubbing of his mother’s back after a long hard day of work. The control and power of the work, a sense of gravity and stability, could refer to their relationship. I don’t believe this Reclining Figure can be included in the “images of anxiety” seen in some works (McAvera, 2001), but neither is the work “almost entirely lacking in any interior or psychological life” (ibid) – that deliberate, directed gaze is too suggestive of volition.

Good art, Moore asserted, contains elements both abstract and surrealist, classical and romantic: “Order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and unconscious. Both sides of the artist’s personality must play their part.” (National Gallery of Art Washington, 2001). Reclining figure: Angles supports a wide variety of readings, some quite contradictory, and I believe is the richer for it.

I’d like to look briefly at another work by Moore I have seen in the past year – Hill Arches. This work more clearly displays a metamorphosis, an ambiguity. Is is the bones of animals or some kind of insect? In my eyes it is an erotic work full of sexual energy and activity (see 15-Dec-2013). Forms have been hollowed out, flesh stripped away, forms within forms laid bare. However it is the varied presentation of the work which I will discuss here.

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Henry Moore
Hill arches
1973 Bronze
National Gallery of Australia
http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=37537

There are multiple versions of this work. The maquette shows a wider spacing of the elements, losing drama and tension (see http://catalogue.henry-moore.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/search@/0/invno-asc?t:state:flow=86105d9a-265b-4eaf-b523-6035b3fbd633, or if that link isn’t good search for Object Number: LH 634 cast 0 ). The working model (Object Number: LH 635 cast 0) is tightened up considerably.

christanto_03The version pictured above is in a corner of the National Gallery of Australia sculpture garden in Canberra and is no.4 from an edition of 4. The work is in a little hollow, heavily shaded by trees, next to a rush-filled pond. The pond itself contains Dadang Christanto’s Heads from the North and in one of my photographs of Christanto’s work you can see Moore’s in the distance. Hill Arches doesn’t dominate space, it isn’t really framed by its environment. Instead I came across this work with a sense of discovery. The work almost blends in to the gardens, the large structure dwarfed by the trees, the colour melding with the natural surrounds.

My interpretation of the sculpture as a copulating couple was based on the angle at which I first saw it, but perhaps also by the rather out-of-the-way positioning and the sense of almost surprising the work in its private space.

I found some photographs from circa. 1985, 1990 and 1995 https://artserve.anu.edu.au/raid1/student_projects/garden/hill/hill.html. Landscaping of the sculpture gardens began in 1981 and most of the sculptures were installed in 1982 (see Piekains, 2003). In those earlier years the Moore sculpture was much more prominent, although even by 1995 it could be said “over the years, as the trees have grown, the work has appeared to sink a little into the landscape” (Hyden, 1995). The work in 2014 seems to have settled in still more, and with the increasing density of reeds in the pond it is not quite so accurate to claim “the Henry Moore sits in languid repose by the edge of the Marsh Pond, the lustrous bronze surface intentionally played off against the surface of the pond” (Piekains, 2003).

The situation of the sculpture seemed to have a strong influence on my experience of it, so I spent some time tracking down the other works in the edition.

moore_viennaOne version is in Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria. The shot from the right is from Google Earth, and shows the work in a very formal setting to one side of an oval pool (I couldn’t even find the Canberra version, hidden in the trees on Google Earth). Photographs I found taken from various angles look completely different, influenced by the architecture of the different buildings behind – for examples see:

  • http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/austria/vienna/church-of-st-charles/hill-arches
  • http://www.travelwriticus.com/hill-arches-henry-moore-vienna-austria/
  • http://www.aviewoncities.com/gallery/showpicture.htm?key=kveat0636
  • In the second photograph listed above the Moore work is a wonderful counterpoint to the baroque church behind, while in the third photograph it seems to float in the water like a strange ark.

    moore_usaAnother version is on its own island, part of the complex of the Deere & Company World Headquarters, Moline, Illinois – see http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/united-states-of-america/moline/deere-company-world-headquarters/hill-arches-1973-lh-636

    The Headquarters, designed by Eero Saarinen, were the first known use of COR-TEN® steel in the architectural world. They have won multiple awards for architecture and the landscape design by Sasaki (see http://www.sasaki.com/project/177/deere–company-corporate-headquarters/). The rounded lines of Hill Arches are a beautiful complement to the low rectangular buildings, sculpture and buildings both proudly displaying their metal skeletons.

    The final work of the Edition is owned by the Henry Moore Foundation and has traveled widely over the years. Photographs I’ve found include:

  • In Kew Gardens, 2008
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Henry_Moore_Sculptures_in_Kew_Gardens#mediaviewer/File:Henry_Moore_at_Kew_-_%22Hill_Arches%22_-_geograph.org.uk_-_541811.jpg; http://www.barrywelchphotography.com/keyword/henry%20moore%20hill%20arches/i-44MfSHn
  • New York Botanical Garden, 2008
    http://nyclovesnyc.blogspot.com.au/2008/06/henry-moore-sculpture-at-new-york.html
  • Atlanta Botanical Garden, 2009.
    Their blog http://mooreinamerica.blogspot.com.au/ contains many interesting photos, including loading onto transport (January 2010) and lit at night (15-May-2009)
  • Denver Botantic Gardens, 2010 – 2011.
    http://denver.about.com/od/photogalleries/ig/Moore-in-the-Gardens-Photos/Moore-in-the-Gardens–Pond.htm
    http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_14282979
  • Hatfield House, 2011.
    http://takeonlymemories.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/henry-moores-hill-arches/
  • Perry Green, 2012
    http://thequacksoflife.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/the-henry-moore-foundation.html
  • The different versions are different. For example the Canberra version is bronze in colour, unlike the green/turquoise patina of the Henry Moore Foundation work. They are presented in very different environments – Austrian urban, Australian bush garden, American industrial park, and a wide variety of temporary homes including both formal and informal gardens. The website of the Henry Moore Foundation suggests “Moore conceived [Hill Arches] for the top of a low hill but usually sited on grass, or in water, where its reflection produced an effect he particularly liked” (Henry Moore Foundation, [n.d.]). The very title of the work suggests landscape, but Cohen has claimed of the Vienna cast “losing all pretence to landscape, its curvaceous forms come to relate to the ornate dome and the twisting triumphal columns that flank the façade. Ironically, this sculpture conceived in terms of landscape has settled effortlessly into this most urbane of settings” (Cohen, 1998). In Atlanta “The turquoise Hill Arches float on a cloud of white Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” with a rose peaking through the background. I’ve eavesdropped on our visitors, and they are enamored with this piece and the lovely, delicate white flowers that set it off” (Atlanta Botanical Garden, 2009)

    Richardson (2007) wrote: “the sculptor commented in 1951, just as he was beginning to contemplate making works specifically for landscapes: ‘Sculpture gains by finding a setting that suits its mood and when that happens there is gain for both the sculpture and setting'”. Does it matter that the artist had one intention, and that I don’t think a single one of the photographs I found had the work sited according to that intention? Obviously many people have enjoyed the works as presented. Does this indicate a strong sculpture that can hold its own and contribute to almost any environment? Does it reflect the cachet of such a well known artist? Could it bring still more to the viewer if seen its intended setting? It is probably only a minority of artworks that are designed for a particular site and are seen only in that site. It has been an interesting exercise to trace the different variants of Hill Arches.

    Finally, I’m always happy to find a textile link. Go to http://magsramsay.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/light-and-shadow-indigo-hill-arches.html to see a textile response to Hill Arches at Kew.

    References

    Atlanta Botanical Garden (2009) Moore in America 8 May [online] Available from http://mooreinamerica.blogspot.com.au/ (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    Causey, A. (2010) “His darkened imagination: Henry Moore” in Tate Etc. 18 (Spring) [online] Available from http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/his-darkened-imagination (Accessed 13-Jun-2014)

    Cohen, D. (1998) “Hill Arches 1973” in Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation edited by David Mitchinson, Henry Moore Foundation: University of California Press p. 305

    Henry Moore Foundation, ([n.d.]) Henry Moore Works in Public: United States of America: Moline [online] Available from http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/united-states-of-america/moline/deere-company-world-headquarters/hill-arches-1973-lh-636 (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    Hyden, J. (1995) Henry: Hill arches [online] Available from https://artserve.anu.edu.au/raid1/student_projects/garden/hill/hill.html (Accessed 18-Jun-2014)

    McAvera, J. (2001) “The Enigma of Henry Moore” in Sculpture Magazine 20 (6) July/August[online] Available from http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag01/julaug01/moore/moore.shtml (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    National Gallery of Art Washington (2001) Henry Moore: Abstraction and Surrealism: The 1930s [online] Available from https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/moore1930.shtm (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    Piekains, H. (2003) Sculpture Garden: Art in Landscape essay originally published in the National Gallery’s of Australia’s Building the Collection publication. [online] Available from http://www.nga.gov.au/sculpturegarden/essay.htm (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    Richardson, T (2007) “Henry Moore exhibition at Kew is a triumph” in The Telegraph 14-Sept [online] Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/3344503/Henry-Moore-exhibition-at-Kew-is-a-triumph.html (Accessed 15/6/2014)

    Ure-Smith, J. (2011) “The man behind the monuments” in ft.com 19 August [online] Available from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/8ea55ae0-c8bd-11e0-a2c8-00144feabdc0.html#axzz352mDRShU (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p4-Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project four: Figure sculpture
    Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture

    UA1-WA:P4-p4-Research Point: Recent figure sculptures

    This research point asks me to look at some more recent figure sculptures. I’m taking a quite literal approach by reviewing photographs I’ve taken of figure sculptures I’ve looked at over the past couple of years.

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    Gaston Lachaise
    Floating figure 1927
    bronze
    135.0 (h) x 233.0 (w ) x 57.0 (d) cm
    http://nga.gov.au/international/catalogue/Detail.cfm?IRN=77438
    This work is in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Australia. It’s a large sculpture of a large and strangely proportioned woman, but she looks so graceful and light – an elegant acrobatic performance.

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    Rayner Hoff
    Australian Venus circa 1927
    Angaston marble
    114.5 x 33.0 x 21.0 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/6549/
    The Art Gallery NSW (AGNSW) nominates this work as a “collection highlight” on its website. Given my last two posts it immediately challenges me on feminist critique grounds. This figure is an idealized form, an entirely anonymous torso. The figure twists to display – flaunt – its physical attributes to the gaze. I recently wrote “Szantho’s work doesn’t ask questions, explore, push boundaries, even really present a strong point of view” (see 8-Jun-2014). I believe Hoff’s work shown here does offer more.

    Hoff was exploring Australian identity in his work. This is a healthy, athletic woman who would enjoy the beach and all the outdoor activities of Australian life. The stone is from an Australian quarry and has a texture and granularity that I haven’t seen (noticed?) in other marble sculptures. It is very sensual, an erotic dream – but has sufficient naturalism and grace to move beyond a mere pinup.

    In the background of one of the photos can be seen two other works of similar period which also reflect on aspects of national identity – The idle hour by Arthur Murch (1933 – http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/873/) and Australian beach pattern by Charles Meere (1940 – http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/OA20.1965/). I really appreciate the thoughtful grouping of works in the gallery, giving context and depth to viewing of the works.

    maillol
    Aristide Maillol
    La Montagne [The mountain] 1937
    Lead
    167.4 h x 193.0 w x 82.3 d cm
    http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=116514
    Close to Lachaise’s Floating figure in the National Gallery of Australia sculpture garden is this female form in triangles and cones. Rather than light and floating, she is massive, mountainous, anchored in the ground of lead which still holds her lower right leg. It could be a grassy plain, her thigh rolling hills leading to the mountain range of the left leg and on to the windswept hair of the summit.

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    Marino Marini
    Rider 1936
    bronze, unique cast
    203.0 x 94.0 x 165.0 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/113.1979/
    I have trouble connecting with this sculpture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is awkward and uncomfortable. Rider and horse don’t quite fit together. The photo of the legs is included because that is the first view I’ve found over a number of visits that seemed convincing.

    From the notes on the gallery website that sense of disquiet was intended by the sculptor. Marini was reacting to the Fascist regime under Mussolini, creating “a modern anti-hero whose vulnerability is very different to the traditional image of the all-powerful military hero on horseback”.

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    Margel Hinder
    Jerry (1945)
    wood
    23.0 x 23.0 x 22.0 cm figure; 25.2 x 27.0 x 27.0 cm overall
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/189.1980.a-b/
    martin_place_15This small wooden puzzle of a figure is so warm and inviting it took an effort of will not to take it in my hands at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It’s an amazing contrast to another work of Hinder’s that I’ve shown in the past, her Free standing sculpture outside the Reserve Bank of Australia Building – although that was tactile and inviting in its own way (see 31-Dec-2013). This seems to be an experiment in filling a cylinder with a human figure, with all sorts of lovely shapes inviting a closer look.

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    Rah Fizelle
    Veneration (circa 1947-circa 1952)
    wood (teak)
    86.5 x 29.0 x 13.5 cm figure; 91.0 x 36.0 x 22.7 cm overall:
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/SA1.1962.a-b/
    It seems to me that I can see a figure kneeling in worship here, although I haven’t found any confirmation of that other than that his “characteristic paintings and drawings of the 1930s are semi-abstract figure compositions” and “his art in the 1940s and early 1950s included near-abstract figures in carved wood, sandstone and pottery” (Thomas, 1981).

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    Alberto Giacometti
    Woman of Venice VII [Femme de Venise VII] 1956
    bronze
    117.0 x 16.0 x 36.0 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/612.1994/
    This figure seems outlandish in her proportions, but still so warm, human, vulnerable. There’s a tactile, almost melting quality – I noticed a particularly prominent “Do Not Touch” sign, so obviously I’m not the only one drawn to explore this work through my fingertips rather than my eyes. To me she seems to be wanting to open her arms, to hold and shelter us. I imagine an unquenchable spirit in the wasted body.

    I was surprised to see on the AGNSW website other interpretations suggested: “Whether we interpret her as a goddess or prostitute, Egyptian cult figure or decomposing corpse, one cannot remain unmoved by Giacometti’s powerful interpretation of humanity.”

    In the background to some of these photos is a portrait by Francis Bacon. That distortion seems hard, brutal, quite unlike the ethereal nature of Giacometti’s work.

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    Antony Gormley
    Angel of the North (life-size maquette) 1996
    Cast iron
    196.5 h x 535.0 w x 53.0 d cm
    http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=191980
    This work in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Australia is a 1:10 model of the one in the UK. The National Carillon in the background of a couple of the photos was a gift from the British Government to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national capital, but I prefer the link to the crane you can barely see in the third shot.

    The art gallery website suggests “as well as evoking a celestial messenger, the Angel of the North recalls the human/divine sacrifice of the Crucifixion”. I can’t agree. This figure stands erect, proud, head high, the wide arms or sails suggest a messenger, or a guardian, or an open embrace. I can’t see a broken body, a sacrifice. If anything this would be after the Resurrection – the Ascension.

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    Juan Muñoz
    Piggy back (right) 1996
    bronze
    183.0 cm height; 62.0 x 56.5 cm base plate
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/293.1997/
    Currently this sculpture is in the front vestibule of the Art Gallery of NSW. The figures are slightly smaller than life-size.

    In this Research Point I have decided to make a broad but rather shallow review – for each work I present the work, some thoughts or reactions of my own, a few remarks gleaned from artist statement or gallery signage. With this work my personal response was so different to the gallery position that I have researched a little further.

    In the gallery I saw these figures as slightly “other” but engaging and playful. They appear mischievous, perhaps having some fun in a stolen moment of time during a day of hard labour. There is some incongruity – the feet of both men are arched like a ballerina’s. How could you carry that weight and balance on your tip-toes? Why put tension in your feet when being carried? They seem to be moving into the general walkway, becoming part of the crowds visiting the gallery.

    I was very surprised to read on the gallery website that figures in this series “look as if their skin has been burned, scarred or melted”, that “the peculiar quality of the surface of the objects is remarkably similar to calcified objects from a limestone cave”, “fossilised like the figures from Pompeii or like revellers who have been interrupted by Medusa and turned instantly to stone”. The notes claim “while this may be a purely subjective response the impact of such a reading is impossible to set aside once it is uttered.” On the contrary, I struggled to find any of this in the work I experienced.

    In an interview with the artist Paul Schimmel suggested “We are unable to relate to them on a personal basis… They stand in for the figure, but you don’t read them emotionally…” and Muñoz responded “They don’t try to coexist in the same space as the spectator. They are smaller than real figures. There is something about their appearance that makes them different, and this difference in effect excludes the spectator from the room they are occupying.” (Schimmel, 2000) This may have been in reference to other works by Muñoz, but the variance to my reaction remains striking.

    I think part of this is the placement of the sculpture in the gallery. In the same interview Muñoz claimed “I use architecture to give a “theatrical” frame of reference to the figure” and “the architecture behaves as a backdrop to the figures. For example, I learned from Carl Andre that the floor was important in the activation of space. But I make optical floors because they help me to magnify the inner tension of the figure. They create a psychological space for the figure that permeates the spectator’s perception.” In AGNSW the work is placed in an area at the side of the vestibule which is designed for the display of sculpture. The work is actually placed on the decorative tiling which defines the centre of the niche. Sculpture is expected here – and instead of claiming and controlling the space it is absorbed by it.

    This loss of impact is exacerbated by the area’s use as a general walkway, and the relationship / contrast formed by the sculpture in the niche opposite – more on that below when discussing the other work, Haft by Gormley.

    It was only when seeing images of other works by Muñoz in Tim Sandys’s essay Selling the Air – The Art of Juan Muñoz, particularly a detail of Conversation Piece, that I could understand references to the horror of eyes propped open, or hollowed out, or blighted faces. Some of the elements supporting this horror, such as a blade in the mouth, aren’t included in the AGNSW work. More than that, I realised why these figures at AGNSW are so familiar to me. Growing up on the other side of the world, I first met my grandfather when I was 18 and he was around 78 – small, wizened, mischievous in a quirky, stern, erratic way, arm permanently damaged by a bayonet on the Somme … and blind. I can imagine him with his brother, Uncle Wilf, in some bizarre escapade, in a tiptoeing piggyback.

    No matter what an artist intends, curatorial decisions, and even more one’s personal experiences and memories, impact the viewer’s response.

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    Dadang Christanto
    Heads from the North 2004
    cast bronze
    each 33.0 h 19.0 diameter cm. Installation (approx.) 1600.0 w x 2300.0 d cm
    http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=131001

    From the signage at the National Gallery of Australia sculpture garden:
    Heads from the north is a memorial to those affected by events following an unsuccessful military coup in Indonesia in September 1965. The brutal suppression that followed had devastating consequences for the nation, leading to mass killings in late 1965 and early 1966. Dadang Christanto was an innocent victim: the eight-year old’s father was among the many who disappeared at the time. Barely holding their heads above water, the sixty-six sculptures signify lives lost and ravaged in the year 1966.”

    Standing in warm November sunshine, listening to the distant carillion’s music, I thought of the horrors of war, the futility, the ongoing cost in human lives – those lost and those living. We have so much, I wish Australia could find more generosity and warmth for refugees.

    XuChen
    Xu Zhen
    In Just a Blink of an Eye 2005
    Presented as part of the Kaldor Public Art Project #27, entitled 13 Rooms, April 2013
    http://kaldorartprojects.org.au/13rooms/xu-zhen

    Can a motionless breathing body be regarded as a figure sculpture? Is it conceptual art or performance art or any kind of art…?

    I don’t know the answers, or how useful such questions are.

    Here our assumptions, our knowledge, of physical contraints, of the material of the body, are challenged. A body which must be falling is frozen – but clearly alive.

    I’ve included this as the most sculpture-like of the various performance art events I’ve seen over recent years, as a challenge to the entire research point.

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    Antony Gormley
    Haft 2007
    mild steel blocks
    165.0 x 48.0 x 60.0 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/74.2008/

    This sculpture by Antony Gormley is currently displayed in the entry vestibule, opposite the work by Juan Muñoz at AGNSW. The steel blocks form an oddly tender image of a man – withdrawn, perhaps shy or wistful.

    gormley_munozAs displayed the two sculptures, the building itself, the people walking through the vestibule – all combine in multiple layers of conversations and contrasts.

    Each sculpture is in a side area designed for the purpose of displaying sculptures – this area was built between 1896 and 1909, so they would have been very different sculptures, bringing in an additional sense of continuity as part of art history.

    Each work is centered in its area, contained and conforming.

    Both works are less than life-size, and that sameness reduces the impact that may have been intended in the selection of scale.

    The work by Gormley turns to one side, away from the visitors walking through, increasing the sense that it is alone in a crowd.

    The work by Muñoz is walking into the space, becoming one of the moving throng, lessening any sense of the alien or otherness.

    I think possible subtlety in Muñoz’s work is lost in this busy transitional area, while Gormley’s figure, obviously alien and out of place, cringing, maintains its impact in a difficult situation.

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    Li Hongbo
    Paper 2010
    http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/artists/li-hongbo/

    This work at the White Rabbit Gallery is two roughly life-sized figures made from tens of thousands of sheets of paper glued together. The stacks of paper were carved into the form of human bodies using an electric saw. I’ve written about this work and others at the White Rabbit before (see 9-Nov-2012)

    The glued paper concertinas out, rather like the paper christmas ornaments I remember from childhood. One figures is exhibited with the paper still largely in place, with only the head unfolded. In the next room his twin is stretched and looped – it’s hard to accept that this was once a human form.

    biennale_16_li_hongboI have thought that this work is primarily an exploration of materials and technique, and that the human form chosen by the artist was simply an interesting shape with which to work. However Li Hongbo’s Ocean of Flowers in the 2012 Biennale of Sydney was based on the silhouettes of weapons – a shocking incongruity which makes me wonder about meanings underlying Paper.

    balasubramaniam
    Alwar Balasubramaniam
    Nothing from my hands 2011-12
    Installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the 18th Biennale of Sydney
    http://www.mca.com.au/news/2012/09/05/last-chance-use-mca-insight-18th-biennale-sydney/

    This work is another to challenge the nature of figure sculpture, given the figure is notably absent. Balasubramaniam has said “these works are an effort to define the space in which one’s self ends and the other begins.” Made of fibreglass, wood and synthetic polymer paint, the works are based on casts of the space between the artist’s hands. There is a loss of identity at the same time as the (past) presence of the other is made apparent.

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    Robert Barnstone
    once removed 2013
    cast glass
    20cm x 10cm x 30 cm
    Sculpture by the sea Bondi 2013

    The artist states “these glass feet are a ghostly reminder of the presence of people past.” Installed on the rocky cliffs of Sydney, I think those bare feet must have been those of the original inhabitants, watching as the ships of the first fleet sailed past on their way to the harbour. The fragility of the glass echoes the fragility of people, the brief impression we make in the sweep of time.

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    Elyssa Sykes-Smith
    a shared weight 2013
    recycled timber
    120cm x 93 cm x 70cm each (2 figures)
    Sculpture by the sea Bondi 2013

    One of the things I most enjoy seeing at Sculpture by the sea is work which uses the unique surroundings. These figures by Sykes-Smith were set into a small cave-like fissure in the cliff face. They seem to be supporting the weight of the rock, soil and buildings above. The figures seem aware of each other, working together in this unequal task.

    vozzo
    Vince Vozzo
    moon buddha 2013
    sandstone
    130cm x 136cm x 59cm
    Sculpture by the sea Bondi 2013
    The artists statement: “For over 35 years the artist has had an obsession for the perfect human face. This spiritual and divine search has led to the creation of many different versions of heads and faces.” The huge, smooth, still face contrasted with the rough rock around and the ever moving and surging sea below. This is the last modern work I am presenting here, and it seems fitting to have returned to the idea of the perfect human form – the goal of the early Greek sculptors and so many since.

    Other works not included here but previously shown in this blog are:

  • untitled (old woman in bed) by Ron Mueck (see 4-Jun-2012) (2000-02);
  • Buck with cigar by Marc Quinn (2009), mentioned a number of times (see 5-May-2013);
  • works by Henry Moore (see 15-Dec-2013).
  • There has obviously been a huge range of approaches to figure sculpture over the past 100 years, with differences in materials, size, purpose … – and this is only those I’ve seen in a couple of years Canberra and Sydney. However none of these could really be called focal points in the cities. They are in exhibitions, or galleries, or sculpture gardens. I’ve been unable to find anything that could be described as permanent urban focal point, apart from war memorials (having made a semi-conscious choice not to include these in my survey).

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    Sydney has such focal points, but not modern. Queen Victoria oversees a busy junction just outside the Queen Victoria building in Sydney. Created by John Hughes this work, part of a larger monument, was unveiled in 1908 in the grounds of Leinster House in Dublin. By 1929 there was a drive to remove it as “repugnant to national feeling, and that, from an artistic point of view, it disfigures the architectural beauty of the parliamentary buildings” (The Irish Times, 1929). After various vicissitudes the work arrived in Sydney in 1987. I just wish I had taken a photograph of her in bright clothing as part of Sydney Statues: Project! in 2010 (see http://sydneystatues.wordpress.com/statues/queen-victoria-qvb/ ).

    The second focal work shown above is the Archibald Fountain by François-Léon Sicard, erected in 1932. It stands in a large space of meeting paths in Hyde Park in the centre of Sydney. Now I’m actually writing this up I realise that the work falls within my “past 100 years” – a trick of the mind, as it is such an iconic work that I have known all my life.

    hillThe City of Sydney public art program seems to focus on moments of unexpected beauty (see http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/arts-and-culture/public-art). Forgotten Songs by Michael Thomas Hill (completed 2011) is one lovely example – a delight hidden in the laneways behind Martin Place.

    References

    Sandys, T. ([n.d.])Selling the Air – The Art of Juan Muñoz [online] Available from http://www.timsandys.com/essay_dissertation.htm (Accessed 13-Jun-2014)

    Schimmel, P. (2000) ‘Juan Muñoz interviewed by Paul Schimmel’ September 18, 2000 in Benezra, N. and Viso, O. (2001) Juan Muñoz Chicago: University of Chicago Press [online] Available from http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/042901.html (Accessed 12-Jun-2014)

    The Irish Times (1929) Quoted in Fallon, D. (2013) Story of the statue in front of Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building [online] Available from http://www.insidehistory.com.au/2013/07/statue-of-queen-victoria/ (Accessed 13-Jun-2014)

    Thomas, D (1981) ‘Fizelle, Reginald Cecil Grahame (Rah) (1891–1964)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fizelle-reginald-cecil-grahame-rah-6185/text10629, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 10 June 2014.

    UA1-WA:P4-p4-Research Point: Recent figure sculptures
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project four: Figure sculpture
    Research Point: Recent figure sculptures

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Annotate a female nude

    The requirements for this exercise are quite precise: an annotation of a classic nude in the western tradition with a comparison to a specific work by a less well-known twentieth century artist. This had me wondering about the underlying purpose of the exercise.

    I’d seen the exercise coming up, and without reading the detail had already selected three works by the same artist in the Art Gallery of NSW to work on – the main work a nude by Dobell, plus comparisons to two smaller nudes by the same artist (the AGNSW has some studies for those, too). I particularly like some brushstrokes and a scarlet red which is carried through the main work.I thought it would be enlightening to think about different works and different purposes over time.

    While I started off rather grumpy, I’ve found the selection of appropriate works and thinking about what the exercise is trying to teach me very interesting in their own right. For the main work I have chosen what I think of as “The” classic nude in the western tradition, and as for the second work – I’ll give my thoughts on that later.

    sketch_giorgioneThe Sleeping Venus (also known as The Slumbering Venus) was painted by Giorgione 1508 – 1510, with some elements completed by Titian after Giorgione’s death. Given copyright concerns (of the photo rather than the original painting), I’ve included my rough sketch here – see http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/sleeping-venus/xgFm1GCECrnfQA?projectId=art-project for the best image I could find.

    The picture shows a naked woman, the goddess Venus, asleep in the foreground. Her long body stretches from one side of the canvas to the other. Behind her is rolling countryside, leading to a hilltop village in the middle ground on the right, another village and mountains in the distance to left, and in the far distance in the centre the sea can be glimpsed – a convincing sense of depth. The long, soft curves and contours of the goddess are echoed in the long curves of the hills in the landscape behind. She lies on fine, white cloth, with plump, rich, red and gold pillows supporting her. The left arm reaches back to support her head, exposing the perfect form of the goddess to our eyes. Her right hand rests on her pubic area, drawing our attention to her as a sexual being. Her smooth, unblemished skin fills our gaze. The colours appear rich and warm, based on the web image available and various sources referring to rich and bold Venetian colours. There appears to be a tree-stump in the centre of the image, almost a pivot point. Is this to create a balance, to remove a void in the centre, a partial distraction for the eye from the hand and groin of the goddess just below, some kind of allegory…?

    For a languid, atmospheric image there is actually a lot of content, a lot going on, except for a vacancy of grass towards the lower right. X-ray analysis reveals that cupid, possibly playing with a bird or a bow and arrows, was in this area. Probably completed by Titian, this area was degraded and painted over during conservation in 1837.

    Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Written by Francesco Colonna  Design of woodcuts attributed to Benedetto Bordone  1499

    Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
    Written by Francesco Colonna
    Design of woodcuts attributed to Benedetto Bordone
    1499
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/365313

    Elements of the pose can be traced back to the Venus of Knidos, while the book pictured here was published only a decade before Giorgione’s work and would have been known to him. However this particular painting by Giorgione is regarded as “the work that founded the tradition of the reclining nude” (Chilvers, 2009, p. 250).

    That is not the only first (or close to first) claimed for Giorgione. He was early amongst those who focused on “cabinet” or easel paintings using brilliant oil-based colours, suitable for secular, private, wealthy clients. Giorgione also created a sense of mood in his landscapes with subtle use of colour and atmosphere, and in the focus painting the nude appears a part of that landscape, not simply posed in front of it.

    Little of Giorgione’s output during his short career has survived, and the attribution of a number of works are the subject of ongoing debate. His work can appear dream-like, not only in atmosphere but in a vagueness of subject or theme, creating a visual poetry. The Sleeping Venus could share this mystery, but the imagery is suited to its original purpose – to commemorate the marriage of Girolamo Marcello, Giorgione’s patron, and Morosina Pisani. The sleeping Venus and cupid are symbolic of a wedding. The gesture of her hand relates to the contemporary belief that to achieve conception both partners must be pleasured. The erotic overtones are within the context of the marriage.

    The scale of the picture invites the viewer in. The goddess in all her loveliness is displayed to us. The viewer could enter the picture and wake her, to share in her erotic dream. Many of the elements of concern in a feminist critique are present. The woman although identified as Venus, is anonymous not an individual and her form is more classical perfection than a real woman. She presents herself to the assumed masculine gaze, is available to the voyeur. Her pose is openly sensual. She sleeps, passive, unchallenging. The association with a marriage highlights that the masculine patron is acquiring for his “enjoyment the perfect partner – passive, receptive, available” (quoting again from Saunders (1989, p. 23) – see also my post 6-Jun-2014). Marriage at the time was a social and political contract in which the woman had no voice.

    In its historical context the picture was appropriate, innovative and beautiful. If painted today it wouldn’t be innovative (ignoring any time travel causality paradoxes!) and I would look for some additional conceptual basis underpinning the work – whether an expression of joie de vivre or a social statement, or an exploration of form…

    The more modern comparative work the OCA notes direct me to is Reclining nude by Maria Szantho. Szantho (1897 – 1998) was born and lived in Hungary. She represented Hungary, sending paintings to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but I was unable to find any works by her on the Hungarian National Gallery website (http://www.mng.hu/en, using site search engine 8-June-2014). The limited biographical information I have found comes from a site maintained by her grand-nephew (http://www.szantho.ca/601.html). The best image sources I have found for Szantho’s works are http://www.pinterest.com/anjawessels/maria-szantho/ (which when I viewed it 8-Jun-2014 had the picture nominated by OCA in the top row) and http://maherartgallery.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/maria-szantho-1897-1997.html. I have no information on size or date or materials used, and the image is limited to 736 pixels. I have not been able to locate any existing critical commentary.

    Presumably the point of the comparison is that here we have a painting of a reclining nude woman, by a woman, testing the scope and limitations of feminist critique – and the comparison of my reactions to this and to the Giorgione work is challenging. Szantho’s woman is anonymous. Her form may be regarded as a contemporary idealization – slim, relatively large breasts, pretty. In other works by Szantho there is a tendency to large eyes, thin eyebrows, bow mouth – the fashion plate of the day. The nude reclines, sleeping – vulnerable, unchallenging, available to the male gaze. There is little definition in the space around her – she rests on a white sheet with a red pillow, there are possible tufts of grass in the foreground and a rough bushy indication behind. From what I have seen during my search some people find her work beautiful, decorative, timeless. I think it is bad art.

    My check lists describing the two nudes are very similar, but the end results are quite different. How can I regard one as great art, endlessly interesting, and the other as trite and banal. I don’t particularly see it as degrading to women, just irrelevant. Szantho’s work doesn’t ask questions, explore, push boundaries, even really present a strong point of view. It is quite disconnected to any of the major movements in twentieth century art. From what I can see on the web image the colouring is a fairly blunt red-green contrast, while the body is not quite photo-realist and not quite anything else. The part I find challenging is that however well or badly painted I can accept one version of the perfected female form and the other I find a dolly-bird, empty-headed travesty. I can’t justify it, I simply note my social conditioning.

    The thing that gets to me in this exercise is that it is unfair. We are asked to compare a fringe artist to a legend of western art. I think it trivializes the feminist debate. One is a great of western art, possibly a pin-up in its day but always more than that. The other is an almost contemporary minor work, of pin-up quality in its day.

    Worse, in this course we so rarely get a chance to consider women artists – it’s a cultural fact that there are few known great women artists for much of western history. Finally we look at women’s art – and we get Maria Szantho. Line up all your male heavy-weights, selected from hoards of artists over the years – and pit poor Maria Szantho against them.

    A short list of nudes painted by women in the twentieth century that I think have something to say as part of western art history – not all “greats”, most not reclining, but all interesting:

  • Dorothy Thornhill, Resting Diana, 1931
    http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=40730
  • Elise Blumann, Summer Nude, 1939
    http://www.treasures.uwa.edu.au/treasures/31/ (There’s a wonderful male nude of Blumann’s too, but I can’t find a solid link. Try https://www.facebook.com/ArtGalleryWA, entry for 26-Jan-2014.)
  • Dorrit Black, Music, 1927
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/217.1976/
  • Grace Crowley, Figure study, nude holding a book 1928-1929
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/170.1980/
  • Ethel Spowers, Resting models, 1934
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/255.1975/ (includes a reclining nude and an interesting red/green combination).
  • And as a break from the Australians

  • Vanessa Bell, Nude, c.1922–3
    http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/bell-nude-n05077
  • Sonia Delaunay, Yellow nude (haven’t got a date or a link, but I like it too much to leave it out)
  • References

    Chilvers, I. (2009) Oxford dictionary of art & artists (revised fourth edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Saunders, G. (1989) The nude: A new perspective. London: The Herbert Press.

    Additional sources
    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Robbins, GS ([nd]) Sleeping Venuses [online] Available from https://sites.google.com/site/sleepingvenuses/home (Accessed 7-Jun-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Annotate a female nude
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Exercise: Annotate a female nude

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: The female nude

    This research point asks me to consider aspect of the female nude:
    * Do they exploit for male gratification or does it depend on context?
    * What does a feminist critique add?
    * How have women portrayed by other women through history?
    * How are women portrayed by other women today?

     Francesco Xanto Avelli Large plate: An allegory on the sack of Rome 1530

    Francesco Xanto Avelli
    Large plate: An allegory on the sack of Rome
    1530
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/389.2011/

    Wandering through the Art Gallery of NSW this was the oldest work including nudes that I found. It includes all combinations of male/female clothed/unclothed. Given the treatment and subject matter it’s hard to read it as exploiting women for male gratification. Many of the figures are based on classical works – for example the central female, Venus, is based on Hellenistic sculptures of crouching Venus (see one at the British Museum – https://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/gr/m/marble_statue_of_aphrodite.aspx). Signage at the gallery includes “The sack of Rome was the world-shattering terrorist event of the renaissance period. On the reverse of this plate the artist refers to ‘5 May’ as we might ‘9/11’.” Why would the artist choose to use nudes in this scene? I wonder if in part he was trying to explain or understand the unexplainable, and to find distance from the immediate horror by seeing it in familiar, formal, classical forms. Raw history is seen through allegory, including Juno, Bacchus (from Marcantonio’s Due baccanti – see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bacco_-_Raimondi_Marcantonio_(1480-1534)_-_Due_baccanti_-_Incisione.jpg), and in the foreground the River God of the Tiber.

    Perhaps a more challenging example is Diana and Actaeon by Titian held at the National Gallery in London. At first glance there is a lot of beautiful, sensual, female skin on display. It could also be a man’s dream situation, stumbling across a bevy of beautiful and naked women. A simple and inadequate response is that I find the painting beautiful and sensual, and as a straight woman don’t feel I am exploiting anyone by gazing on the image. I’m also aware of the story being represented – another from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Acteon has accidentally wandered into the goddess Diana’s bathing place. The goddess, greatly displeased, turns Acteon into a stag, to be hunted and killed by his own dogs -as pictured in Titan’s The Death of Actaeon, also in the National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-the-death-of-actaeon). This is not a good story for men leering at women.

    There are so many ways to read a painting, so many perspectives. Did you notice the black girl attending Diana (wearing stripes! see my post on The Devil’s cloth for more on that – 1-May-2014)? How many strong, powerful black figures does one see in western art before the 1800s? One of the three Magi, but little else. For an example of exploitation and abuse in art, go back to my annotation The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville (24-Oct-2013) to see a work based in politics and oppression. There are many forms of discrimination and oppression – race, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, class… Campaigners against a particular wrong can seem to find its trace everywhere.

    There’s no denying that the sensual, the sexual, the erotic, is a fundamental element of a lot of art – and, I would say, of a healthy, balanced life. The question is of oppression – is there a systematic abuse of power? Before looking at a feminist critique of the nude in western art I wanted a more “traditional”, formal analysis, viewpoint. The OCA notes refer to The Nude: A study in ideal form by Kenneth Clark, but although in the NSW Art Gallery library catalogue I couldn’t find it on the shelves. Instead I took notes from The Body: Images of the nude by Edward Lucie-Smith (1981) (discovering later that he has also co-authored a book with Judy Chicago which seems to present contrasting interpretations of images of women in art – I haven’t been able to track down a copy).

    Lucie-Smith explains that the nude is central in western painting “not merely as the accepted measure of proportion and the noblest subject an artist could devote himself to, but as the yardstick of reason” (Lucie-Smith, 1981, p. 7). Artists attempted “to make perfection of body the mirror of perfection of spirit” (ibid, p. 13), and in failing to reach such lofty goals the artist could still reach greatness – “It is the struggle to transcent the sexual basis of what he was doing rather than its complete elimination, which makes Michelangelo’s male nudes so moving… Many of his contemporaries did not even bother to put up a fight. The nudes they painted were erotic without dissimulation.” (ibid, p. 13).

    When art was mainly commissioned by the church painting of nudes was restricted to particular scenes – Adam and Eve, the Crucifixion. When art became more secularized from the sixteenth century, it could become more overtly erotic – but “patronage of art – and its sexual rewards – were privileges of power” (ibid, p. 13). In the early seventeenth century art lost its “purient, keyhole quality” and “at the same time there is a more open acknowledgement of sheer sensuality: an increased passion for everything colourful and dramatic” (ibid, p.16).

    Lucie-Smith discovers widely varying artistic purposes.

  • Cagnacci has “a strong sado-masochistic streak” and “it is clear that the nude interests him for its vulnerability – it is the measure, not of reason, but of man’s capacity for sensation” (idid, p. 17).
  • In Angelica and the hermit “Rubens turns his painting of the nude into a statement that animal energy, without the least spirtual overtone, has virtures of its own which ought to be celebrated by artists. Sexual appetite, he tells us, can be treated as matter-of-factly as the business of working up an appetite for dinner” (ibid, p. 19).
  • “The typical Boucher work is unspecific, a mere diagram of female attractiveness, something disconcertingly close to the pinup drawings of the present day” (ibid, p. 20)
  • “Renior no longer to justify his interest in the nude by making it part of some mythological composition, nor even by making it obviously ‘decorative’ after the manner of Boucher and Fragonard… For Renoir the female nude has the magic of perfect ordinariness, with no need to stress the fact. It is as ordinary as a flower in full bloom, or a ripe fruit” (ibid, pp. 20-21).
  • In Bathesheba “what Rembrandt seems to be doing is using nudity not only as an emblem of genuine sexual desirability … but also as an emblem of vulnerability… One empathizes with Bathsheba rather than desiring her. Her humanity counts for even more than her sexuality” (ibid, p. 21)
  • Jacques Louis David “approached its erotic implications rather cautiously, prefering to use it … as a symbol of strength and heroism” (ibid, p. 24)
  • “Ingres was always fascinated by the idea of woman as slave or captive. The bound female figures in his Ruggiero and Angelica clearly had a deep psychological appeal for him” (ibid, p. 24).
  • Degas “in his misogyny pushes matter much further, suggesting that a human being is merely a kind of animal” (ibid (p.26)
  • Lucie-Smith finds examples of nudes used to symbolise sexual awakening, unfolding possibilities, as a means for the artist’s self-exploration – “powerful emanations of subjective feeling” (ibid, p. 28). In twentieth century art “the nude has become more rather than less central, since it remains the basic image of humanity” (ibid, p. 29). Aristide Maillot shows “residual classicism”, Francis Bacon “anguished distortion”, Matisse with Carmelina is “universal and impersonal”, Modigliani “turns the female nude into a musical interplay of stylized shapes”, while DeKooning found femaleness “simultaneously threatening and voluptuous” (ibid, p. 29)

    I can’t agree with all of Lucie-Smith’s assessment – for example look at Carmelinahttps://www.mfa.org/collections/object/carmelina-32429. I see a strong woman confronting the artist. Renoir may have seen a nude as ordinary as a ripe fruit – but then how often is ripe fruit used to suggest sexual readiness? The reference to Rembrandt’s Bathsheba is interesting. I found two versions, showing different parts of the biblical story. At The Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/437393) we see Bathsheba at her toilet and she seems to look back knowingly, comfortable with our view. Just visible atop the palace in the background is David, also watching her. The version at the Louvre (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/bathsheba-her-bath) shows Bathsheba holding the summons from David. She appears withdrawn, pensive, troubled, vulnerable. I think Lucie-Smith must be referring to this version.

    Turning to a feminist perspective, I was able to find and skim through a book suggested in the notes – The nude: A new perspective bu Gill Saunders, written about eight years after the book by Lucie-Smith. Saunders begins her introduction: “Nudity is a politically, socially and sexually ‘loaded’ subject, liable to provoke extreme responses” (Saunders, 1989, p. 7). She continues “‘Nude’ is synonymous with ‘female nude’ because nakedness connotes passivity, vulnerability; it is powerless and anonymous”.

    Saunders develops her position:

  • “For the Greeks, the nude, apart from its celebration of physical beauty, expressed the nobility and potential of the human spirit, but in Christian theology nakedness became a symbol of shame and guilt … signs of sinfulness, grief and humiliation” (ibid p.9)
  • Of Christian art in the twelfth to sixteenth centuries, “nakedness is the outward sign of the sins of the flesh indulged and will be punished accordingly” (ibid, p.9)
  • Of Academic art training in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries “The apprentice painter was only permitted to advance to the next stage of his training – drawing from the living model, naked or draped – when his imagination was well-stocked with ideal forms to counterbalance the distressing variety of nature in the individual” (ibid, p. 17)
  • Pietro Cipriani  Venus de' Medici 1722 - 1724  Bronze

    Pietro Cipriani
    Venus de’ Medici
    1722 – 1724
    Bronze
    http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=313766

  • “Most images of naked women by men are designed to display their bodies to the male gaze without challenge or confrontation … The male artist constructs for his own or for his male partron’s enjoyment the perfect partner – passive, receptive, available.” (ibid, p.23) Saunders refers to the “spurious modesty” of the Venus de Medici, whose female attributes are emphasized in the act of attempting to cover herself. The photograph included here is of a bronze copy made for the wealthy art collector on his ‘grand tour’.
  • These images enabled male voyeurism – with the woman blamed for the man’s reaction. “Such a displacement of blame is only possible where the naked woman’s glance does not engage the viewer leaving him … free to gaze at her body and to fantasize about it unchallenged” (ibid, p. 24)
  • The woman is anonymous, not an individual, not a challenge, passively displayed to the male viewer without obstruction. “Thus the objections to Manet’s famous nude Olympia were founded not in her class, her profession, or indeed her nakedness but in her unashamed awareness of the spectator’s desire… Degas’ alleged misogyny is actually a refusal to comply with the unwritten rule that the female nude be reduced to a sexual spectacle, displaying the body to a male spectator.” (ibid, p. 25)
  • “While the male nude can be eroticized … only the female is fetishized, mutilated, fragmented, rendered anonymous” (ibid, p. 71)

    Saunders does identify two specific forms of the active, rather than passive, female nude.

  • “… the embodiment, the allegorical personification, of purely male qualities, or attributes and functions permitted only to men in the social order of the time: Revolution, Victory, Virtue, Justice. She acts not as a woman but in her capacity as the representative of a male quality.” (ibid, p. 28)
  • Otherwise, active female nudity indicates voracious sexuality embodied in such mythic archetypes as Eve… These predatory nudes embody the dangerous ‘otherness’ of women’s sexuality unleashed” (ibid, pp, 28-29). An example of this is Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto (to 1555/1556) (http://bilddatenbank.khm.at/viewArtefact?id=1564). Saunders states “The woman is clearly blamed for her predicament and presented as an exhibitionist: vain, worldly, narcissistic. Elaborately coiffed, she is rapt in contemplation of her image in the mirror. If she finds her own beauty so spell-binding, how can the Elders be blamed for succumbing to its temptations?” (ibid, p. 34)
  • Passive rather than active, vulnerable, powerless, anonymous, the object of voyeurism, the one to blame for men’s reactions, fetishized, mutilated, the allegorical embodiment of male qualities, the narcissistic temptress – I can see all of those elements in various artworks. Are they the rule, exceptions, or a more complex mix?

    When I quoted from Lucie-Smith I deliberately used comments about both male and female nudes. It seems to me that a particularly feminist reading must not only show that there has been oppression and abuse of power but that it is applied on the basis of gender. For example Francis Bacon both mutilated and fetishized the nudes he painted, including Henrietta Moraes in Lying figure (1969) (https://www.fondationbeyeler.ch/en/collection/francis-bacon), but many more males are seen in his work.

    With her claim that ‘nude’ equates to Saunders seems in danger of a circular argument – the oppressive treatment identified in nudes only happens to women because only naked women are nudes. Saunders writes “In images of the male nude the emphasis is on how the body works rather than how it appears. Is is not devised for contemplation as a sexual object” (Saunders, 1989, p. 26). Perhaps the many obvious exceptions are covered in a more complete version of one of the quotes above: “Though the male nude can be eroticized – witness certain images of St Sebastian swooning in a state between pain and ectasy as the arrows pierce his flesh, or Robert Mapplethorpe male nudes informed by homosexual sensibility…” ibid, p. 71). The example from Botticelli’s work pictured here has Mars in that most vulnerable state, sleep. And while I am picking at counter examples, Saunders writes about the use of mirrors in Susanna and the Elders and other paintings as a symbol of the narcissistic and available woman. In the painting Carmelina by Matisse, mentioned above, it is the artist’s face we see in the mirror, while the strong female model has her back to it.

    One avenue I haven’t had time to explore that is clearly relevant to this is the preponderance of male artists in western art history. One notable woman artist was Artemisia Gentileschi, and her version of Susanna and the Elders (1610 – see http://www.artemisia-gentileschi.com/susanna.html) shows the men looming over Susanna, who very clear shows her objection to their advances. The site linked here includes many works by Gentileschi, a large number of which show strong woman taking action against oppressive men.

    I would like to mention two contemporary female artists.

    The first is Judith Linhares, who paints very large, colourful scenes, frequently including nudes. I tracked down some videos of Linhares speaking (http://www.romanovgrave.com/grave_videos/judith-linhares-interview-at-ed-thorpe-gallery). She mentions the strong women in her background, her college training including anatomy, her early desire to “paint like the men” – large and abstract. She avoided the pretty, the decorative, to meet perceived criteria of seriousness, until in the early 70s she came to think “decorative hey, I’ll show them decorative” and started works in part about “indulgence of a girlish appetite”, with rhinestones and gauze and feathers – for example see http://www.judithlinhares.com/Archive1970_17.html. For many years part of a politically focused womens group, they were visited by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, “trying to enlist them” – but Linhares never saw herself in the role of handmaiden. Linhares’ nudes are active and unabashed, moving through space and their lives.

    Julie Rrap is a contemporary Australian artist. Rrap’s work frequently involves a naked female body – her own. However this is not self-portraiture, she is not exploring or presenting herself. Instead she combines the roles of model and author, using her body as a tool. Rrap has been associated with feminism and it is interesting to see how she exploits and objectifies her own body as she explores various issues, including at times the representation of the female nude in western art.

    Lucian Freud And the bridegroom 1993

    Lucian Freud
    And the bridegroom
    1993

    Finally, I recently saw this painting at the Art Gallery of NSW where it is on long term loan from the Lewis Collection. The canvas is huge – 231.8 × 195.9 cm. The bodies seem vulnerable, sprawled asleep in the brightly lit studio. I find it very tender and beautiful.

    References

    Lucie-Smith, E (1981) The Body: Images of the nude London: Thames and Hudson

    Saunders, G. (1989) The nude: A new perspective. London: The Herbert Press.

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: The female nude
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Research point: The female nude


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