The Nelson reveals that a hot body was sexy 200 years ago, too.

Who Needs Clothes? 

The Nelson reveals that a hot body was sexy 200 years ago, too.

It's all about the body beautiful. The Naked and the Nude, an intimate 14-piece exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is a perfect midwinter respite. In organizing these 19th- and early-20th-century prints and drawings from the museum's permanent collection, curators have borrowed a theme from hidebound art historian Kenneth Clark's 1956 ideas of naked and nude. He declared "naked" to be the body in embarrassment and "nude" to be the confident body, "reformed." It's debatable whether such antiquated notions of the body are still pertinent, but that's another column — and never mind, because the art provides a sensory delight.

These delicate works on paper illustrate the wealth of drama inherent in prints and drawings — especially drawings. Drawings pull us closer, our breath touching the glass as we strain to feel the artist's hand in the line on the paper. That is the pleasure and the satisfaction of drawings.

William Blake's "Let Loose the Dogs of War" (1795) is an apocalyptic piece in which Death, in a heroic pose, stands sentinel, wielding a sword over a dog mauling a human. Drawn as grim book illustration (as many of Blake's works were), it packs a theatrical punch. In another early work, Théodore Géricault's "Study of a Male Nude With a Rearing Horse" (1817) depicts a beautifully rendered male nude, whose horse Géricault merely suggests. Though it's a study rather than a finished work, the drawing feels whole because of Géricault's ability to strike an active and spectacular scene with only a few lines.

It's uncanny how work from the 19th and early 20th centuries can seem so contemporary. Austrian Egon Schiele has always been an artist whose tense, tight and hard-edged drawings feel right here and now. His work is usually aggressive and confrontationally sexual, so it's not that surprising to learn of his 1912 imprisonment for "obscenity" — whatever that might have meant then. Drawn that same year, his jagged "Nude" is essential Schiele, direct and jarring. Drawn in crayon with heavy, hard lines, the woman has a deliberate sexuality — a dark scrabble of pubic hair charges the body — that contrasts with the soft sensuality of Edgar Degas' similarly modern work.

Degas provides the exciting zenith of the exhibition with his spectacularly modern "Standing Male Nude," a two-sided drawing framed to allow us to see both sides. Done during his 1856-58 stay in Rome, the red-chalk drawing eagerly conveys the sensual male body. Degas drew his subject with a soft, frugal hand, simply and with graceful minimalist lines. The figure stands informally, his hands resting casually above his head, his elbows out, displaying his body as open and vulnerable to our gaze — which he meets. His face flickers with immediacy because Degas drew it with loving and intimate clarity. This direct exchange of gazes makes the drawing feel modern, immediate, as if 200 years simply have not passed.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Facebook Activity

All contents ©2014 Kansas City Pitch LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Kansas City Pitch LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.

All contents © 2012 SouthComm, Inc. 210 12th Ave S. Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of SouthComm, Inc.
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Website powered by Foundation