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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 10 JANUARY 2014 — Paris abounds in superb exhibitions which remain in one’s mind years after viewing, but although only a month has passed since visiting the Nu Masculin at the Orsay Museum, all that comes back to mind are paintings, sculptures and photographs of men without clothes, their genitals wagging in the wind.

First seen at the Leopold Museum Vienna and curated by Tobias G. Natter, the controversial exhibition Nackte Männer (Nude Men)  was rebaptised for the French public as Masculin/Masculin  -  L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours (Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day). Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation focuses mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945

Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu, 1778
Oil on canvas, H. 122; W. 170 cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry

No doubt the intention of  the show (through 12 January ) was praiseworthy enough, for historically, naked men have been somewhat absent in art over the last 200 years, but where was the ‘modern’ equivalent of Michelangelo’s David? Nowhere, for this was a show determined to present as many works of men without clothes on as could be found, even to scraping the barrel for little-known, uninspiring sculptures.

However, admirers of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud could bask in front of several outstanding examples of their works while other more fortunate art lovers discovered a small but perfect painting by Gericault in a quiet side room. There are naked men…. and naked men.

Lucian Freud: Naked Man on Bed, 1989
Oil on canvas

There was Cezanne’s Baigneurs (Bathers), 1890 a beautiful painting, such as a rose on a branch of thorns, wondering perhaps just what it was doing there, in the midst of a pleiad of offerings by Pierre and Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953), the sole merit of these latter photos being that they were of men with no clothes on.

Paul Cézanne: Baigneurs (Bathers), 1890
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

There were several attempts at humour, the most obvious being, Vive la France, a coloured photograph of three football players, one white, one brown and one black, stark naked except for the grins on their faces and their red white and blue football socks. Another photograph of an immense penis leering up out of a dense dark forest, was entitled, The Origins of War; it possibly wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Pierre et Gilles: Vive la France, 2006
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece, H. 125; W. 101 cm
© Pierre et Gilles
Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont

However, ‘everyone’ on the day of my visit turned out to be groups of giggling middle-aged women and couples of blushing young gays, embarrassed perhaps by the corniness of so many of the works around them. For, granted, this exhibition showed a wide range of artists besides the aforementioned Pierre and Gilles, but perhaps Guy Cogeval of the Orsay Museum would have been better advised to have exhibited less and eliminated those worthless paintings and photos which dragged the exhibition down, and contributed nothing extra to the theme. There was simply work after work, linked by the portrayal of the male in all his cinemascope, naked glory, passing for works of art.

A missed opportunity.

Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the Georges Braque exhibition at the Grand Palais.

Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day
Until 12 January 2014

Musée d'Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75007 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 40 49 48 14

Nude Men: From 1800 to the Present Day
By Tobias G. Natter (Editor) , Elisabeth Leopold (Editor)

Hardcover: 348 pages 
Hirmer Publishers (February 2013)
ISBN-10: 3777458511
ISBN-13: 978-3777458519
Tobias G. Natter is an Austrian art historian and director of the Leopold Museum in Vienna, which houses one of the largest collections of modern Austrian art. Elisabeth Leopold is an Austrian art collector. With Rudolf Leopold, she cofounded the Leopold Museum and the Leopold Museum Private Foundation.

Related Culturekiosque Archives

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The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century Drawings from the Paris Academy

Francis Bacon

Men: Rodin and His Drawings of Male Nudes

Paint Made Flesh

Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins

Muscular Bronze: Sculptures by Willem van Tetrode (1525 - 1580)

David Seidner: Photographies

Michelangelo: The Drawings of a Genius

Mapplethorpe and Mannerism: A Curatorial Statement from the Deutsche Guggenheim

Ron Mueck

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