Arts

Hold on to your butts: These 100 Montrealers spent a night at the museum in the nude

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts invited folks to immerse themselves in the erotic work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe — while naked.

The art lovers were immersing themselves in the erotic work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

(Montreal Museum of Fine Art/Sebastien Roy)

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Approximately 100 visitors to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts got an immersive tour of the work of late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe on Thursday night. Conducted after regular museum hours, the evening tour allowed people to view the works of the celebrated artist — while they were naked.

The tour is part of the current exhibit at the Museum, Focus: Perfection — Robert Mapplethorpe, a major retrospective of the late controversial artist's photography. "When you look at his photos, you can see the diversity of bodies that he captured," says Thomas Bastien, the Museum's Director of Education and Cultural Action. "We wanted to find a way to reflect that diversity for visitors to the exhibit."

(Montreal Museum of Fine Art/Sebastien Roy)

The Museum had been discussing ways to collaborate with Fugues, Montreal's monthly LGBT magazine, for some time, and this seemed the perfect fit. Mapplethorpe was a brazenly queer artist, creating provocative images that explored ideas around gender and infuriated conservative critics. "We learned that two other museums, in Sydney and Vienna, had done naked-visit events in the past [which] were very successful," says Fugues editor Yves Lafontaine. "With the Mapplethorpe exhibit, it seemed the perfect match for us."

The event's organizers felt the idea of seeing so many nude portraits while the viewers were nude themselves seemed the most fitting way to immerse people into the art. But what they weren't ready for was how popular the event would prove. "We had no idea the proposition would appeal to such a large number of people. After the ad ran in our September issue, we thought maybe 35 people would sign up, but we had hundreds of inquiries, so we had to rethink the event to include more people."

(Montreal Museum of Fine Art/Sebastien Roy)

The majority of people who attended were men (there were only three women in attendance). Braden Scott, a doctoral student in art history at McGill, was one of the naked-night attendees. "I think initially people were a bit shy, but there was a cocktail first, so anyone with issues could get over it," he says. "My initial response when I saw the ad was, 'This is a night for perverts.' But then I thought about it and realized what a great idea it is, given Mapplethorpe's art."

Not surprisingly, Scott says the evening did feel erotic. "Everyone had their clothes off and we're looking at many photos of naked people, as well as photos depicting BDSM. It felt cruisey, but I also felt shy. It was a weird combination."

(Montreal Museum of Fine Art/Sebastien Roy )

Scott says the tour really was like nothing he has ever experienced in a museum or art gallery before. "I might have expected an event like this to be organized by a smaller gallery. I'm very impressed that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts did this. It shows that they are aware of what he was doing and who he was speaking to. Doing an event like this integrates the work with the spectator. I'm quite blown away that the Museum did this — it speaks to their respect for him as an artist."

Focus: Perfection — Robert Mapplethorpe. Until January 22, 2017 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. www.mbam.qc.ca

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