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Naked Men: Power and Powerlessness through the Ages opens at the Leopold Museum
A woman looks at an artwork by William Bouguereau, entitled 'Equality before Death', as part of the "Nackte Maenner" (Naked men) exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. The exhibition opened its doors on October 19, 2012 andruns until January 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN.

VIENNA.- The endless flood of images intrinsic to today’s lifestyle has given unprecedented public prominence to the depiction of male nudes. At the same time seemingly firmly established categories such as »masculinity«, »body« and »nakedness« are apparently being redefined on a broad social basis, resulting in a new interpretation of male gender roles. These developments have prompted the Leopold Museum to embark on a topical as well as historical journey through the visual arts in search of the male nude, a quest leading predominantly from the longing for antiquity prevalent in art around 1800 to contemporary art.

The exhibition »Naked Men – Power & Powerlessness Through the Ages« also represents the fulfillment of the museum’s long-cherished ambition to present a counterpart to the highly successful 2006 exhibition »Body – Face – Soul« curated by Elisabeth Leopold, which explored the female image in art from the 16th century to the present. Thus, the current presentation constitutes a continuation of this theme, except that its focus is now on the opposite sex.

The exhibition »Naked Men – Power & Powerlessness Through the Ages« is based on works by Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and Anton Kolig – three artists who are more comprehensively represented in the Leopold Museum than in any other institution and in whose oeuvre the depiction of the male nude features prominently. Schiele’s male nudes can be seen as unconditional explorations of the self, as expressions of inner emotions and as body images situated between vulnerability and provocation. Gerstl followed the tradition of Christian iconography with the first of his two life-sized self-portraits, while he elevated the fragmentation of form to a principal in the second with his wild brushstrokes. Kolig was captivated by the depiction of naked young men all his life and dedicated his drawings almost exclusively to this motif.

Based on eminent examples from its own collection and complemented by loaned works from all over Europe, the Leopold Museum’s exhibition will set out in two main directions, examining the depiction of the male nude in contemporary art, while also exploring the »Old Masters’« approach to the subject from the Renaissance all the way back to antiquity.

The exhibition unites examples of many different genres, including painting, sculpture, graphic arts, photography and new media, with special emphases on the following themes:

Ever since the Renaissance, the naked male body was considered to be an important object of study and an indispensible part of the academies’ curriculum, which was one of the reasons that women were denied access to art academies for so long. The presentation affords insights into the life drawing rooms of European art academies from the Baroque period onwards and illustrates to what an extent all eyes were focused on the naked man, though he himself was the only one to remain naked.

For centuries, the depiction of the male nude was only »legitimized« by ancient art. These restrictions prompted the emergence of various artistic strategies that reinterpreted ancient ideals under the guise of antiquity. This is illustrated in the exhibition with examples from the period around 1800 up until the present.

While Klimt still believed that nakedness and truth coincided in the »Nuda Veritas«, Schiele began to make his own body the object of his paintings. Expressionism brought with it a radical examination of the self, which saw the artists exposing themselves both physically and existentially and exploring the use of their own nudity as a sphere of political influence.

The battle of female desire and male denial is not often addressed in the visual arts, but it has its historical sources both in the biblical story of »Joseph and the wife of Potiphar« and in the ancient mythological traditions of »Narcissus« and »Adonis«. The emancipation of women as artists has brought with it a new basis for the depiction of such conflicts. Nowadays, female artists also have access to male nude models and are free to interpret and depict this motif at their will, currently often with a view to deconstructing gender and gender asymmetries.

In the second half of the 19th century depictions of naked people in nature abounded. These renderings had their origin in a reassessment of man’s position in nature. Based on early depictions such as Dürer’s »The Men’s Bath«, the exhibition features many eminent examples of such encounters and get-togethers of naked men, from Cézanne to Mapplethorpe.

Today's News

October 22, 2012

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