SUMMER 2008

Nudity in the Public Eye

Vol. LVII, No. 2

Eyeing the Sculptural Nude
by Lynne D. Ambrosini

Possibly there has been no field of art more bedeviled with public incomprehension than that of the modern sculptural nude, especially in America. In 2002, when former Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered curtains to cover a pair of nude allegorical sculptures at the United States Department of Justice, he unwittingly added a new episode to a long-playing drama: "Nude Meets Unprepared Viewers." This now-familiar issue of discomfort with the nude has not always been with us. In Western art, sculptural nudity goes back to early civilizations that predated the ancient Greeks, whose statues of unclothed gods, heroes, and athletes manifested their society's reverence for the beauty of the human body. After the rise of Christianity, Western culture never fully recaptured its earlier serene acceptance of the nude. The era of the fig leaf had begun. Nudes may be intended by their makers as heroic, commemorative, or ideal, but audiences in Europe and America have sometimes found them immodest or immoral.
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Removing the Fig Leaf: Today's Nudity in the American Public Eye
by Anna Tahinci

Whereas the depiction of the naked human body has inspired some of the finest sculptures since the Paleolithic period (Venus of Willendorf) and naked statues are widely accepted in most societies, they have also provoked some controversial reactions across the centuries. Most civilizations have had a natural interest in and appreciation of the human body. In Greek classical sculpture an unadorned figure was a reference to the status of the depicted person or deity: Athletes and gods could be identified by their adornment or lack of it.
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Time and Duration: Louise Bourgeois' Father and Son
by Patricia Failing

Seattle, Washington's, first and only sculptures of nude males on public display made their debut in January 2007. Created by renowned nonagenarian artist Louise Bourgeois, the life-size, stainless steel and aluminum figures represent a father and his six-year-old son. The sculptures are mounted on piers set several feet apart within a fountain, and appear to be elevated by jets of water. This ensemble is a compositional anomaly for Bourgeois, although the nude family figures recall her enduring preoccupations with anxieties of childhood, corporeal experience, and the flow of time.
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The Visible Nude: Artists and Foundries Speak about Public Sculpture
by Ellen B. Cutler

Sculptural ornament is the traditional remedy to the emptiness of plazas and parklands. Monuments honor great achievements and mourn shared losses. A vocabulary of symbols and expressive gestures accrued over centuries provide artists with a rich resource of forms, and members of the public with ways to understand messages encoded in stone and bronze. Among the most common of motifs has been the nude figure. At least this was the case prior to much of the twentieth century. It is now the twenty-first century, however, and "the public," it seems, casts a harsher light on the nude. Are recent controversies based in regional attitudes that many describe as "provincial"? Or is there a fundamental change in the perception of the human form that has subverted our understanding of the nude and undermined its potential for metaphor? In an effort to consider the outlook for the nude as a motif in contemporary public sculpture, Sculpture Review polled several artists and fabricators about their experiences and their expectations.
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Public Art in China
by Xiaoming Wei

For only a bit more than ten years has the phrase 'Public Art' been widely used in China instead of the phrase 'City Sculpture.' Public art is changing gradually, accompanied by the development of sculpture art from a realistic to a figurative style, then to a movement, a program, or a plan. China has achieved tremendous progress in the economic sphere, concepts, and arts since the opening of its economy in 1978. The reasons for these advancements are various, but the most important reason is that China has truly begun a dialogue with the world.
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