▲ “Kiss” (1889) by Auguste Rodin. PROVIDED FROM HTTPS://TATEKOREA.MODOO.AT.
On the fine line between art and pornography, the naked body has always been a controversial issue regardless of age, race, and culture. While the controversy over how humanity should approach the body is the underlying question, it is undeniable that many find nudity irresistible. Acknowledging the artistic value immanent in human anatomy, Soma Museum has selected the body as the museum’s theme of the year. Before the backdrop of the body as a theme, Nude: Masterpieces from Tate is being held from August 11 to December 25, 2017, at Soma Museum.
Nude: Masterpieces from Tate can trace a large part of its accomplishment back to the successful collaboration between Soma Museum and Tate Museum. Tate Museum is renowned for its modern art pieces and is often said to represent the art of the United Kingdom (UK). This year’s collaboration with Soma Museum is part of Tate Museum’s worldwide tour project. Celebrating Korea/UK 2017, a year of mutual cultural exchange between the UK and the Republic of Korea, the two contemporary art museums succeeded in providing a rare opportunity for Korean citizens to enjoy masterpieces from eminent European artists.
In 2016, Soma Museum articulated its theme as “Contemplating the relationship between art and life through the body” and designed the exhibition accordingly. Through a range of ancient to modern works, the exhibition expounds on the history of nude art in the West. Thanks to the detailed and adequately long explanations, the audience is able to fully enjoy the exhibition without much background knowledge. 122 art pieces overwhelm the audience and give the impression of traveling through Europe. Familiar names such as Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, William Turner and Pablo Picasso greet the audience. The fact that these illustrious artists have all delved into the subject of nudity suggests that this is a universal topic in the realm of art.
Recognizing the difference between the concept of nudity and nakedness is critical to understanding the exhibition. In particular, this is crucial in Korea since Korean society is highly sensitive about both, and neglects to distinguish between the two. In fact, civil demonstrations against the exhibition troubled the curators when the museum displayed some of its art pieces outside the museum during the first week for advertisement purposes. What is interesting is that nudity was challenged in a similar fashion throughout Western culture. From being lambasted as pornography to appropriated as a means of political expression, the concept has been constantly criticized and reshaped throughout history.
▲ "Nude on a Couch” (1915) by Auguste Renoir. PROVIDED FROM HTTPS://TATEKOREA.MODOO.AT.
The exhibition is home to eight different themes, which portray the different manifestations of the concept of nudity. Since social trends and works of art influence each other, the latter allow the audience to travel through time to different eras in history. As such, it is interesting to notice changes in the social perspective toward nudity in each period. For example, it is astonishing to witness the social change and improvements that transpired since Anna Lea Merritt’s “Love Locked Out” (1890) was painted. In the past when few women were allowed to enter art school, nudes of men were a taboo for female artists. Therefore, in her drawing, Merritt had to draw a young boy instead of a grown man.
Due to its unembellished nature, nudity is often used for candid expression. The value of nude art is that it allows artists to breathe life into their honest opinions, while also giving them the opportunity to lay bare the crude desires of society. In this sense, nudity has been one of the most powerful tools for social activists and is still being used to call out the toxicity of embedded popular perceptions. Recent and unfamiliar artworks that depict the nudity of people with black skin and grown men in sexually provocative poses in the Body Politics section make the audience realize that they were unknowingly taking white nudity as the standard.
Moreover, the candid feature of nude art interests the audience by showing the most private features of not only the models but the artists as well. Since nudity is one of the most prevalent themes, the exhibition displays artworks of globally renowned artists, including those who are not known for drawing people. For instance, nude sketches filling William Turner’s notebooks would surprise the audience by revealing that he could make such erotic touches when he is famous for landscape paintings. It is fascinating to see another side of famous artists.
For Tate, the exhibition holds great meaning as the first exhibition held in Korea. Among other art pieces, the most famous one of the exhibition is Auguste Rodin’s “The Kiss” (1889). For the first time in history, the masterpiece is displayed outside Europe. “The Kiss” is not the only prized sculpture in the exhibition. Aside from paintings and sculptures, diverse mediums including photographs in various sizes engage the audience.
Nude: Masterpieces from Tate is gathering steam from word of mouth among citizens, with the galleries already milling with people of various ages and both genders. Regardless of our backgrounds, nudity is indeed an attractive theme for people in that it divulges the deepest nature of humanity. By admiring artistically valuable masterpieces from another continent, Nude: Masterpieces from Tate allows audiences to examine human history from the unique perspective of nudity.
Title:NUDE: Masterpieces from Tate
Venue: Soma Museum (Olympic Park)
Period: From August 11 to December 25 (Closed on Mondays starting November)
Opening Hours: 10:00 ~ 18:00 (last entrance at 17:00)
Admission: 13,000 won (7,000 won on Culture Day, the last Wednesday of each month)
Docent Tour: Every day 11:00 A.M. & 5:00 P.M. (Audio Tour available anytime)
Event: Photo Day on every Monday until October 30. (9,000 won on Photo Day)