Mhambi has been redeployed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What doesn't move, the snow will cover

What doesn't move, the snow will cover
Originally uploaded by tetheredto.

Here they go again, my favourite Flickr photographers - Rose and Olive. This pic is lovely & strange I'm sure you'd agree.

But what is it with this intrigue in naked women, and is it art? In this weeks Guardian Germaine Greer, in response to a new exibition on Naked Potraiture, explained why women artists started taking their clothes off for their art .

a tenacious misfortune lodges in the loveliest bodies
Originally uploaded by tetheredto.

Mhambi as you may know has himself been intrigued, informed not to mention tittelated and charmed by the many intimate pictures by females of themselves found on Flickr. Some of it is unashamedly erotic and (self) exploitative (watch those page view counters grow) some gorgeous, viceral, disturbing and poetic.

According to Greer models in Renaissance nude paintings - even of female subjects - were almost always male, but by the beginning of the 20th century the naked portrait was becoming something of a female speciality.

Girl in red shoes
Originally uploaded by Miss Aniela.

"Only courtesans allowed themselves to be painted, naked and bejewelled, often horizontal, usually thinly disguised as goddesses and personifications, by the best artists of the day. The elegant female figures of Lucas Cranach the elder, nude but for massive gold chains and sumptuous hats, are almost certainly paintings in this genre. The painting by Raphael known as La Fornarina, with its deliberately erotic play of dark eyes and half-smile, is probably a portrait of a courtesan called Beatrice Ferrarese. Portraits of Diane de Poitiers naked outnumber portraits of her clothed; her naked effigy in stone still rules over her house at Chenonceau. Gabrielle d'Estrées posed naked nearly as often as Diane de Poitiers; the double portrait of her pinching the nipple of another naked lady (whose identity is the subject of some disagreement) is probably the best-known work of the Fontainebleau School, and parent to dozens of half-length portraits of naked ladies. All the painters of the Venetian school limned the beauty of the city's chief stock in trade, for the courtesans themselves, for their protectors, and for their clients to take home as mementoes.

speaks like dead fingernails
Originally uploaded by joycake.

The nakedness of respectable wives is not exposed to the public until very much later. Even the picture by Rubens that is usually supposed to be of his second wife, Hélène Fourment, emerging naked from a fur coat is probably no such thing, and the model for Rembrandt's Bathsheba may not have been his common-law wife, Hendrikje Stoffels.

gone crazy
Originally uploaded by calico courtney brooke.

If the art of the 19th century is revelation of the troubled self, the art of the 20th is revelation of the self as body. For reasons that feminism has explained ad nauseam, embodiment is a crucial issue for all women and creative women especially. In 1983 Edward Lucie-Smith wrote that the naked portrait was becoming a female specialty, citing Sandra Fisher's portrait of Ron Kitaj in Jerusalem, as well as naming Polly Hope, Maggi Hambling and Sarah Lloyd.

how many ways can i tell them that i love them?
Originally uploaded by dirtyfeet.

Women artists have always produced a disproportionate number of self-portraits; what is striking is how, in the early years of the 20th century, they took their clothes off to do it. In the beginning, the male artists more or less kept pace. When Paula Modersohn-Becker painted herself naked, she had Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele and Lovis Corinth keeping pace with her. Since then, a horde of women artists who use their own bodies as their principal medium of expression has overrun the art scene. When Alice Neel paints her naked self, palette in hand, at the age of 80 she is doing much the same thing as Lucian Freud in 1993, painting herself as she might any other subject. The younger generation are doing something very different.

Originally uploaded by avolare.

When it comes to the work of Hannah Wilke, Francesca Woodman, Helen Chadwick, Jo Spence, Joyce Gunn-Cairns, Lucy Jones, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Elinor Carucci, Jemima Stehli, Joan Semmel and Alexa Wright, the artist's body is not just another subject among many. To list such work as naked portraiture is to maroon it in a lesser genre.

Originally uploaded by kometa_raketa.

Hammer (the organiser of the exhibition) seems unaware of the heroic dimension of Hannah Wilke's work, and includes her piece Super-T-Art as if it were no more than an elaborated projection of the artist's own likeness. For Wilke, her own body was an art object that she deployed in performances, videos and photographs, acting out internalised masculine fantasy. The capitulation was of necessity partial, and feminists found much to complain of in Wilke's exploitation of her own undeniable beauty. After Wilke was diagnosed with lymphoma, she documented the devastation of her beauty in much the same way as she had earlier enacted ritual mutilations. She remains an artist too important to be lumped in with pedestrian makers of naked portraits.

self-portrait waiting
Originally uploaded by olya.ivanova.

Wilke died in 1993; Jo Spence's journey through terminal cancer had ended a few months before. Again, we must conclude that her subject is not herself but the conceptual system in which women struggle to function. Helen Chadwick is another artist whose subject is not her elegant nude body but the world of illusion in which that body has its being.

Erotic Ambivalent & Cruel
Originally uploaded by CinemaCowgirl.

When Francesca Woodman turns her back to the camera and cowers in a filthy corner, we must question whether her practice can safely be called portraiture. Something far more significant seems to be happening, something that lines her up with Ana Mendieta, for example. We might as well call the woman-shaped depressions Mendieta made in the ground when she was working, and even when she leaped out of a window to her death, self-portraits, as lump Woodman in with the self-publicists. Woodman, too, committed suicide by jumping out of a window, three months before her 23rd birthday, leaving us hundreds of extraordinary photographs. Female body art is a high-risk business.

Originally uploaded by .séverine.

Naked portraiture is a poorly defined sub-class of a pedestrian genre, calculated to appeal to a culture both besotted with celebrity and visually illiterate.

In terms of abiding aesthetic value, Polly Borland's photograph of me naked on my bed, for example, has nothing to offer beyond the footling detail of the toile de jouy wallpaper of my bedroom, which is at least in focus, unlike my face. It was the photographer's whim to photograph me in my bedroom, and mine to wear nothing, because I own neither a nightgown nor pyjamas."

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