Nov 30, 2011

TREND| The Artist is Present/Nude

Jeff Koons, Llona on top (Rosa Background) oil inks on canvas 96 x 144 inches 1990

Nudes are nothing new in the world of art, the human form has been depicted since cave paintings and perfected through Roman sculpture and the Renaissance. The modern Nude made a splash with the help of photography and Edouard Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe. Bringing the form into the everyday and purposely realigning the audience with the reality of the model as present and meaningful. 

Nor is it rare to see the artist as a subject and weighted content, as proven in Albrecht Durer's self portrait or much later with The House with the Ocean View by Marina Abramovic. For this post however, I want to focus on the contemporary use of the nude artist combo as a tool specifically in the work of Alia Magda Elmahdy, Terrell Moore, and Danny Guthrie.
Danny Guthrie, Pyrolater, Photograph 2010

Starting with the controversial Danny Guthrie (Portfolio Listing, Washington Post, (Notes on) politics, theory , and photography); Associate Professor at Michigan State and author of Light/Color: An Exhibition of Contemporary Color Photography. Through 2000 Guthrie came out with a collection of compositions containing both himself as well as students. This has raised a great deal of outrage toward his perceived tight roping of a professional student and faculty relationship. Its important to note Guthrie is never completely nude and many of the models also remain at least some what clothed. 

However, the intimacy produced by proximity in the photographs and relationship to his models seem to produce aversion reminiscent of the before mentioned Dejeuner sur l'herbe. In the sense that like Manet, Guthrie produced controversy over the realm in which the models exist (Manet- everyday vs. Guthrie- Educational Institution). 

Also, very similar to drama over Sally Mann's use of her children; questioning whether or not the artist used positions of power to produce nudes. Reflecting on Mann as the mother to her subjects like Guthrie is the Professor to his, meaning most importantly he holds their grades (or life for college students).
Terrell Moore, Untitled #31, 60x36 ", mixed media on canvas
Next lets talk about Narcissism, Terrell Moore's photography series of Terrell Moore nude, stained, and on canvas. This is a pretty big leap from most of his Exhibited work (except Bear a similar exhibit with a model instead of him) that typically involve the build up and reduction of collage through bleaching, tearing, spitting, and painting. Usually ending up with a large cross like structure made of exposed portions of discolored and recolored advertisements or smut. 

 His process is overly expressive which makes Narcissism even more out of place among his norm as it is completely inflective of him and him alone. Though unlike Guthrie I don't believe Moore was looking for the shock value instead I see a period of self release. 

He mentions when asked about his other works that he doesn't see his creations as a channeling of himself or his being on canvas but rather a result of a process. In Narcissism Moore seems able to finally exploit himself on canvas in a bold attempt to produce the bare reflection of himself in the Gallery.

Aliaa Magda al-Mahdy, Self Portrait, Photograph 2011
  Lastly, Alia Magda Elmahdy (New York Times, New Statesmen, CNN) a student from Ciro who recently posted a self-portrait of herself on a blog that was taken down then reposted on twitter. The Photograph ingeniously traps the content in question between to alarmingly red focal points. Elmahdy has no disillusions about the danger she has put herself in for the sake of critiquing Islam and sexism, her boyfriend was imprisoned for 4 years after his own blogs were found by Mubarak's regime.

The negative reactions across the middle east also highlights the institutions debilitating constructs towards women and artist exploring sex or sexuality. I find it hard to imagine where Danny Guthrie or Terrell Moore or even my own work fit in all this.

The human form has proven to be an bold mode of expression that can provoke, release, and even expose the artist themselves as well as the audience. Seemingly vein like Jeff Koons, these artist truly explore themselves within the realms they function and express their needs as artist. 

-Tyler Robarge 


  1. I loved this post especially the comparisons with Danny Guthrie and Sally Mann. I can understand the outrage with Mann using her minor children, where they have (seemingly) no choice but to participate. But Guthrie was using students who are old enough to know about giving thier consent to participate. Did those students have to fill out any forms? Was Guthrie's students from his classes or random srudents he recruited out of the department? And also you mention Jeff Koons and have a picture of him but you never mention what it was he did.
    -Serena Rangel

  2. Serena, Guthrie does not recruit students in his own classes, he also works with colleagues and faculty members. He tends to just go up and ask students that e thinks might be interested in working with him, and what they are comfortable with doing and what they are not.
    I don't know if he has them fill out forms, most likely im assuming he does. He can recruit students from his own department, just not those currently enrolled in his classes. He says he also has many students come up and volunteer without him having to even ask.

    - Erin Davis

  3. The Image of Jeff Koons is from 'made in heaven' a series were he posed with his wife llona. This series is what sparked my interest in this topic because Koons; like Moore and Al-Mahdy, it's completely different than any work pre or post. It seemed to me the each had a similar phase were they felt the need to become the overt subject.

    -Tyler Robarge