Nude Men: From 1800 to the Present Day

The Decade of the Male Nude

Review by Grady Harp

The Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria has just presented a controversial exhibition titled NUDE MEN: From 1800 to the present day, and this very handsome book mirrors the substance of that exhibition. Though this time around it seems as though Europe is lagging a bit behind the US in quality publications that address the artists who have had the courage to painting the male nude both in contemporary times and historically (the popular quarterly art journal The Art of Man, the books Powerfully Beautiful, 100 Artists of the Male Figure, Eros & Adonis from Firehouse Publishing to name but a few), this museum exhibition garnered great publicity not only because of content but also because of the huge photograph of a reclining male nude that covered the entrance to the museum.

Including works of top-class artists the exhibition “nude men” spans the period from the Enlightenment in the 18th century until the present, supplemented by important reference works from ancient Egypt, Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. The exhibition and book show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values. Beginning with Ancient Greece as a standard and a pretense for later sexually explicit images, the exhibition then addresses the depiction of bathing men at the end of the 19th century. Another focus is on the nude self-portraits of the Expressionists Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl as well as the change in the perception of naked men after 1945. Some of the works on display and captured in this book include Albrecht Dürer, Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Giovanni Giacometti, Egon Schiele, Maria Lassnig, Andy Warhol, Alfred Hrdlicka, Günter Brus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Heimo Zobernig, Eugène Fredrik Jansson and others.

As one reviewer summed it up, ‘Thanks to loans from all over Europe, the exhibition “naked men” will offer an unprecedented overview of the depiction of male nudes. Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation will focus mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945. At the same time, the exhibition will also feature important reference works from ancient Egypt, examples of Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. Spanning two centuries, the presentation will show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.’

Though the emphasis of the book is sharing images of the works that comprised the exhibition, the book it self is rich in information with essays and commentary by Elisabeth Leopold, Wolfgang Schmale, Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, Michael Frapf, Thomas Röske, Diethard Leopold, Jonthan Weinberg, Elke Freitsch, Katharina Pewny, and Erich and Pia Kirchler. The plates are divided into a Prologue (The Long Tradition) and three foci: The power of Reason; Classicism and Enlightenment; Classical Modernism; After 1945. Short biographies of the artists are shared. This is a very rich and fine resource for all art lovers and for Europe it is a landmark book.

Grady Harp, May 2013

TITLE: NUDE MEN: FROM 1800 TO THE PRESENT DAY
AUTHOR: TOBIAS NATTER AND ELISABETH LEOPOLD, EDITORS
PUBLISHER: HIRMER/LEOPOLD MUSEUM
ISBN: 9783777458519

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