25 January 2008

Spencer Tunick

Mexico City 5 (Zócalo), 2007 © Spencer Tunick

Over at Slate (16 January) you can find an essay by Mia Fineman entitled "Naked Ambition: Why Doesn't Spencer Tunick Get Any Respect?". Here is the punch-line:
[ ... ] The problem with Tunick as an artist—and the main reason, I think, most critics have ignored him—is that he doesn't seem to have anything to say. His installations are spectacular and attention-grabbing, but as for what it all means … well, to put it bluntly, I don't think it extends too far beyond, "Wow. That's a lot of naked people."

Over the past few years, Tunick has created a number of commissioned works in support of political causes. Last August, he photographed 600 naked volunteers on the Aletsch Glacier in southern Switzerland, an installation commissioned by Greenpeace to raise awareness about global warming. (The 15-mile-long Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps, shrunk 328 feet from 2005 to 2006.) And in 2004, at the request of Poz magazine, he photographed 85 HIV-positive men and women posing nude in Manhattan's Florent restaurant to call attention to World AIDS Day. Tunick's shtick, though conceptually thin on its own, is supremely well-suited for this sort of political publicity stunt. Here, public nudity is invested with real meaning, whether as a symbol of the fragility of the environment or as a visible reminder of the hidden politics of illness.

In other cases, such as a recent commissioned shoot at the Sagamore Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., Tunick has allowed his art to function as nothing more than upscale advertising. The photographs of this installation, which were exhibited at the Sagamore during the Art Basel Miami contemporary art fair in December, show 500 people cavorting in the hotel's pool on fluorescent pink and green floats, standing on the hotel's art deco balconies, and popping open bottles of champagne. They're all naked. Wow.

Switzerland, Aletsch Glacier 1 (Greenpeace), 2007 © Spencer Tunick

Sagamore Hotel, 2007 © Spencer Tunick

I suppose I agree with Fineman about Tunick ~ he doesn't have much to say. His photographs have always struck me as stunts. "Wow!" Unlike Fineman, though, it doesn't matter much to me whether his stunts are commissioned by the good guys, by some advertising agency, or an art fest commitee. They still don't really say anything. Even when they are paid for by the good guys they remind me of nothing so much as PETA pranks [1] [2] only with too many bodies to airbrush. Maybe it is fun for the folks to be all naked together. But "you had to be there" doesn't really cut it.

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Blogger Sam J. Miller said...

while i definitely agree that his formula's a little stale (X public space + Y # of naked people = spencer tunick photograph!), i do see a certain resonance to his work, even the stuff that's not explicitly structured around a political cause. his pictures take our obsession with turning the naked human body into commodity, and injects a healthy glimpse of our parallel hobby, genocide - a field of inert nudes comes to resemble a concentration camp mass grave; the lovely lone nude becomes unwholesome and scary when surrounded by hundreds of others.

25 January, 2008 23:35  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Sam, Nice point. I have to say that I had not thought at all about Tunick in the way you suggest. While I seriously doubt that he has anything like what you suggest in mind, I can see what you mean. Thanks.

26 January, 2008 13:39  
Blogger AMEN said...

well, not sure i can find genocidal metaphors inside of any of these photos. i think people, especially or rather, only, look for meaning in art. as if all art must be a metaphor, and if it is too clear, it is simple, if it is too masked, it is intellectual. bullshit. let us, at time, view things for what they are. the message that tunick has in mind is not important to me, i do not know him. the message i receive, which is one i am obviously bringing to the table before i even view the art, is taken from my own experiences. i find a lot of hope in his photos. shit, when was the last time you saw 3000 people on the street in the name of art. in the name of experimentation. sure, a protest or a festival, but that is many agendas mingled in, or in the case of a protest, it is one sharing of anger. in his photos i see a large group of people learning about their own space and bodies by mirroring them off of others in a positive experience. i feel like there is hope for this country yet.

so to say that he is without message is to really say that the viewer is without experience to gauge the message by. the idea is outrageous, and quirky and daring, and overall, beautiful.

27 January, 2008 02:18  

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