Exposed: The Naked Portrait


This week I managed to go to Exposed: The Naked Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, a one room exhibition of unclothed portraits from their collection.

What struck me glancing round the room was the proportion of women to men. Out of the seventeen people in the room only seven were men. Not a massive difference but the other thing I noticed was the larger amount of photographic prints over other mediums.

The choices by the curators are definitely interesting. It would be reasonable to say that most of the subjects are fairly contemporary with a public persona. This got me thinking, would the photographs be the same if the fame was removed? Would the images be any different if they were of someone unknown but the poses remained the same?

Going back to the room, one of the information panels described how artists have been using their own bodies to make a statement to their audiences. I’m sure there was a time in the past when the self portraits of these artists would have been more controversial than it is now. With the social media world we live in, the shock factor of a naked portrait has been slowly diminishing.

Having said that, the technique still has a place in art galleries. Such a shame then that too many people who call themselves artists have either over used or poorly executed the idea of the naked truth. The truth is that nakedness or nudity is no shortcut to producing outstanding creative works that will be admired by future generations.

Exposed: The Naked Portrait is on at the National Portrait Gallery until 11 September 2016.

19 August 2016 Yesterday I went to the lunch time lecture given by assistant Curator Rab MacGibbon on this exhibition. It was an interesting insight into the work for this display. And seeing what nearly made it in gave me a better understanding of what the National Portrait Gallery considers is culturally significant.

The talk did make me think about what constitutes as a portrait when the subject matter is a contemporary modern artist who includes themselves in their work. Is the piece a work of art in its own right or is it showing the artist doing what they do? Not an easy question to answer in some cases.

I was also surprised to see how often art with a male central figure the nakedness is used to represent power and success. Which can not be said much when it is a female central figure.

Our cultural attitude towards nakedness in art has changed through time and will continue to evolve. Should artists create work that challenges? Absolutely. But it is worth saying again, poorly executed naked or nude art should never go unchallenged. Especially if it has been acquired by an established gallery.