Friday March 20, 2015

Canadian nude art exhibit challenges national prudishness

Listen 9:22

If you're considering renting works of art for a corporate or a clinic waiting room, which piece would you pick: a still-life painting of fruit on a table or a photograph of an elderly woman revealing her breasts?

According to the Canada Council Art Bank — the publicly-owned institution which holds and leases the world's largest collection of Canadian art — most of its clients choose the former, and as a result, its collection of nude art is in storage and rarely on display.

A new exhibit called "Getting Naked" at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario, pulls the works together, and asks why this is the case.

"I think sometimes organizations self-censor themselves [when selecting artwork] because they might be afraid of potentially offending someone," curator Virginia Eichhorn tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "People think artwork depicting naked people should only be in galleries and museums."

"Getting Naked" features more than 100 nude works from the Bank's Canadian collection.

"There's been a lot of comments and responses from people after they saw the show," Eichhorn says. "They have been asking themselves why they're not feeling comfortable with nudity. Why is it that we're more comfortable when we're watching something on HBO, but not necessarily when we're face-to-face with a particular painting, or sculpture or photograph?"

We asked Eichhorn to provide commentary on two of the exhibit's most popular pieces.

Donigan Cumming: Untitled work (April 10, 1992)

Donigan Cumming: Untitled work (April 10, 1992) (Courtesy of THEMUSEUM for As It Happens)

"It's actually a portrait of the artist's mother. She's elderly, obviously towards the end of her life... it's beautiful. There's no sense of shame. There's no sense in trying to hide one's self. When you talk to people about nudes in artwork, people have a particular idea, they think it should be the young, nubile, perfect body. The use of the aged body, of presenting it in this context of being beautiful, and being honest and vulnerable is something that I find very, very powerful."

David Dorrance: "Raku Form #2S"

David Dorrance: "Raku Form #2S" (Courtesy of THEMUSEUM for As It Happens)

"That is a teapot with a spout which is very phallic. It's also combining the humorous with the erotic. It is male genitalia that is being depicted, when predominantly it is women who are depicted as being naked... teapots are situated within the female domesticity and here is something that is kind of innocuous [with male phallus]. [The artist] is getting quite blatantly cheeky about it."

If you happen to be around the Kitchener area on Friday, Mar. 27, there will be a naked tour of "Getting Naked." All members of the tour are expected to attend in the nude.