Fear of Nudes

Photofairs San Francisco opens this week. It’s one of the major global photographic art fairs, and to my taste the most interesting one in North America.

Unfortunately, my work will not be showing there, for the simple reason that it involves nudity. My gallery was literally briefed not to bring any of my “sexy nudes.”

It’s a huge disappointment, because artists have few other possibilities to show work to the public. Every gallery show and especially every fair is a great opportunity to connect with people who genuinely care about art. Artists usually work on their own or with a small team, so the chance to present the work and interface with the public is extremely important. I feel particularly strongly about this, since my work is sculptural and not simply photographic, which makes it difficult to fully grasp if you just see a two-dimensional jpeg on the internet. I am a firm believer that art should be experienced in person anyway. My new pieces have a specific physicality. They are made from various acrylics and metal, and extend beyond the image, which is a deliberate choice to introduce an interplay between light and shadow that changes with the light throughout the day.

I am particularly disappointed, because this year the fair has a special section for staged and sculptural work. As the curators describes it, “STAGED explores the relationship between photography and other art forms such as installation art, sculpture, video and painting.”  …if ever there was a theme which encompasses what I do, this would be it.

But I was disinvited, probably out of an overabundance of caution in the current atmosphere where museums have been called upon to censor contentious works or artists. This is frustrating because my work is not intended to be sexy, and I was not given a chance to show different pieces or to plead my case. It is worth mentioning that the very same organisers had approved it for Photofairs Shanghai in the past. But apparently nudity cannot be shown in America at the moment, unless it’s vintage, ugly, or of/by someone famous.

Nudity is part of the universal human art language, and has been around since the beginning. I’m not about to walk my readers through art history. If in doubt I recommend Camille Paglia’s Glittering Images, a must-read anyway.

Nudity cannot be automatically equated with sexuality. Most of my images depict the human body as an expression of emotion, not as a sexual object. Also, in a lot of my work, most of the body is obfuscated. That decision is not about objectification, but an artistic device to include a second shot composition and direct the eye’s consumption of the overall piece. That’s hard to understand when viewing a small picture on a screen, but when experienced live in full size, that is how the pieces are intended to work.

There’s a hundred and fifty years of art school arguments that I don’t want to rehash. I don’t make work for the viewers to perceive a power differential between their own clothed presence and the nudity of the subject. Looking at a nude body does not make the viewer a voyeur or a sociopath. Not all nudity is unequivocally pornography. What about Ren Hang? Nan Goldin? Is nudity only acceptable if it is “real” and shot with on-camera flash? Is Herb Ritts’ work welcome at the fair because he’s famous? Do we reject his idolisation of beauty in favour of zits and armpit hair to permit nudity into contemporary photographic fine art? We need to be careful not to reduce photography to simple decoration, or incomprehensible abstraction. I’m not saying staged fine art nude photography is the only path there, but I wish it wasn’t closed off in fear of bullies.

I was especially hopeful to show my work in San Francisco because it’s a community that appreciates modern technology. A lot of the CNC (computer-numerical control) robots that I use to create my new work were developed in the Bay Area of Northern California. It’s German exactitude and American ingenuity, but in this case used to showcase my contemporary interpretation of Italian modernists. I’ve really been enamoured with Paolo Scheggi’s work, and he’s one of the artists that has served as a point of departure for the Spatial Concepts series.

His work was done with canvas, wire, and wood frames, whereas I rely on robots executing a carving program. I also use lasers to cut aluminium plates, but I combine this modern technology with one of the oldest art forms, the depiction of the human figure.

 

 

 

Paolo Scheggi is at the top, the other two images are simple previews and renders out of the 3D software. Over the next week my team and I are assembling the first ten pieces before my April show. I will be posting a lot of original new work, with actual installation shots. Regardless, I am very sorry to have missed this opportunity to be part of Photofairs San Francisco, and hope that next year they’ll reconsider the inclusion of nudes. I wanted to show this new work, and to explain my process to a receptive audience.

 

 

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