Tate Etc

Tate Etc. Issue 5: Autumn 2005

Dear Henry Tate,

In the late 1980s new debates about the body emerged, typified in such influential book series as Fragments for a History of the Human Body (1989). Subsequently, this affected both how artists worked, and how their work was perceived. While some had found Louise Bourgeois’s feverish personal Surrealism off-putting, her art soon underwent a dramatic revival. Similarly, around the same time, Cindy Sherman left behind her cool black-and-white photography to create pictures that were much more about the psychological aspects of the body.

This photograph – of visitors to Vienna’s Leopold Museum exhibition The Naked Truth: Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka and other scandals – shows how far public attitudes to the body (and nudity in particular) have changed since such works were deemed offensive. It is also a reminder of Kenneth Clark’s lucid distinctions between the naked and the nude, the erotic and the aesthetic, as outlined in his book The Nude (1956). And taking Clark as his starting point, David Rimanelli shows how, in the work of Félix Vallotton, Francis Picabia and John Currin, such polarised definitions have since become blurred.

As the body comes under ever increasing popular media scrutiny, what does it mean to the artist now? Nicholas Blincoe suspects that some of today’s more conceptually minded practitioners ‘do not even notice that the body has slipped out of art’. He asks: ‘What happened to it all… the artists who leaped from windows, disappeared at sea, scarred their bodies, drew blood, rolled naked?’

Much has changed since your day, has it not, Henry?

With best regards

Bice Curiger and Simon Grant

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