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The Nude: Art from the Tate Collection @ The Art Gallery, New South Wales

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by Emu Byron (subscribe)
writer in English, French and Spanish with published credits available in government publications, local and ethnic media. I live in Sydney.
Published November 10th 2016
Like all great Art, the Nude: Art from the Tate Collection, is a mirror held up to us in which we may see ourselves, and the picture reflected in it, an image of what we have become
Informed opinion is that the show lacks a thesis, a "raison d'Ítre". We concede only that it is overwhelming, presenting as it does, over one hundred nudes, which embrace three distinct periods of Western Art, the Romantic, the Modern, and the Post Modern, along with a plethora of artists and multiple treatments of the subject, which render the process of appreciation intellectually taxing and aesthetically challenging, but, take heart. The cafeteria is only one level up, with its breathtaking views of Woolloomooloo Bay and Potts Point, for a quick glass of wine, and a bit of discursive reflection.

Its curator is Justin Paton (in association with Emma Chambers of the Tate Gallery London, from which the collection is on loan) whose work has been lauded for its accessibility to a non expert public.

Justin himself is on record as referring to the exhibition as "a survey". But can two hundred years of the art history and treatment of one genre (the nude) truly lack an exegesis, a reason for being shown to the public? We think not, and propose that the missing thesis, or at the very least, hypothesis, is one that is meant to be supplied by the public, with a little help from the curators.

The one hundred pieces or so are organized in nine showrooms laid out in a concentric circle, which suggests a symbolic centre,. the turning in upon itself of sweeping reflection. The centre, room 7, the Erotic Nude (see map), is occupied by the now egregious Auguste Rodin 3 ton white-marble sculpture, "The Kiss". This is a colossal work eminently suited to act as the axis of this exhibition, due to its cultural concatenations that echo back to the most famous scene in Dante Alighieri's 13th Century "Inferno" and the characters immortalized in the verses of Canto V. Look carefully, and you will see the smaller figure of Francesca Di Rimini literally "falling" (and not just into the arms of her incestuous, adulterous lover).

Layout Nude Art from the Tate

Passion, boundaries, forbidden thresholds coyly breached or boldly crossed, are constant attendants stressed upon broader thematic issues concerning the artistic representation of the naked and the nude, throughout the 200 years on show.

These are "the big questions about the unclothed body" stressed by the curatorial interventions at all stages of the show, not just because 'the nude' is us, ourselves, afflicted by, in the words of Paton, "issues of love, desire, mortality, truth and power". But because, after Claude Levy Strauss, 'control of sex becomes the means of socialization', and after Michel Foucault, the body becomes "the locus" for almost any emotional, political, ideological and or social construct that you care to mention, all of them, along with the raging intellectual battles that marked the day, are evident or subtly present in the bewildering array of schools, movements, and individual talents that comprise the exhibition.

The curatorial message may be subtle, and hard to disentangle from the overwhelming mental and aesthetic stimulation of the show, but once identified, it is unmistakable, and haunting.

Like all great art, the Nude: Art from the Tate Collection, is a mirror held up to us in which we may see ourselves, and the picture reflected in it is an image of what we have become.

The show will run from the 5th of November 2016, to the 5th of February 2017, and will include lectures, tours, films and events, including a unique nude performance collaboration between the Gallery and Sydney Dance Company from January 7 onwards.

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Why? See the artistic representation of the naked and the nude according to the raging intellectual battles that marked them in their day
When: Until february 5 2017
Where: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Cost: $24 adults - $14 children
Your Comment
Great review!
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1368) 1170 days ago
Thank you Jay, I actually had to curtail my effusion over this show not just because it offers so much to say, but because there are so many works on which to focus in which to say it. Wonderful show.
by Emu Byron (score: 0|7) 1170 days ago
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