Akureyri Art Museum, until 30 April Spencer Tunick is best known for his treatment of the nude. Or in his case, nudes, often hundreds of them. Since 1994, he has taken numerous photographs of group nudes in Chile, New York, Australia and other locales. Often, his work has landed him in legal trouble – he’s been arrested in New York five times since 1992, and has had to take his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, who ruled in his favour. Not that negative reactions bother him much.
“A lot of the negative reactions I ignore, because I think a lot of that is pop media driven,” he told the Grapevine. “But negative reactions from governments or other people trying to stop my work are things I pay attention to, because while pornography is a multi-million dollar business, my goal is not fornicating, but to work with the body as an art object in a public space. That’s what I do.”
While undaunted by legal challenges, the military can often prove to be a mighty obstacle to overcome.
“One of the more daunting logistical problems that I’ll have to deal with is when the military in a Latin American country will say no, and then you have to try to convince the military,” he told us, “because sometimes the land I want to work on might be military or near a military facility – and then you have to speak to the military in an unbelievably refreshing way about the human body. And sometimes it’s daunting when you want a location, and the permission has to actually come from the president of the country. That’s nerve-wracking for me.”
Looking at Tunick’s works, it’s hard to see what prompts people to be shocked by them. The nude has been the subject of art since ancient times, and Tunick’s work carries on the tradition by making the body a part of the background. Melbourne 3, 2001, as one example, shows hundreds of naked bodies covering the banks of a river, looking for all the world as sexy as sunbathing sun lions. The more festive Brügge 4, 2005 might feature 300 women in nine small boats in a Belgian canal, but again, the bodies are massed so close together and shot from such a distance that they resemble something else entirely.
The overall effect of Tunick’s photographs is that we become able to see the human body, if not human beings, as fragile, vulnerable, and nearly overwhelmed by the world around them.