To be frank, we've never been entirely comfortable with our naked bodies. We wake up next to a full-length mirror, have what could politely be described as paunch around our mid-section and were subjected to Eyes Wide Shut at far too young of an age thanks to cable. So when the opportunity to go to the opening of Ellen Harvey's "The Nudist Museum" Saturday afternoon at the Bass Museum of Art arose, we jumped at it. We hoped that the notorious study of the naked form could place our body issues in a proper context.
Harvey took every piece of art in the Bass featuring nudity, duplicated them, and modified the works. (Read our recent Q&A with the New York artist here.) Formerly vibrant landscapes fell victim to Harvey's grayscale paintbrush, drawing the eye to nothing but the flesh tones of naked bodies. The Bass's collection provided a wide array of styles in nude subjects.
The purity inherent in Renaissance era depictions of Madonna and Child lay in contrast to the grotesqueness of Leonard Baskin's drawings of the male figure. The works were contained in an array of secondhand frames, some provided by the museum, some of which Harvey found in Brooklyn thrift shops. The paints splayed over the frames, symbolic of nudity's permeation into our culture.
The disarmingly charming Harvey held court, her warm demeanor a stark juxtaposition to her reputation of taking down art clichés. It took four months from concept to exhibition for the project to come to fruition. When asked why she picked the Bass to host the exhibition she explained that she was compelled by how nude-centric Miami is. Harvey seemed pleased with the reaction the exhibit was receiving, but confided that one of the largest compliments the work had earned came during installation, when a group of teenage boys remarked that she "painted great tits."
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The patrons varied in age, from elderly to toddlers. One young boy caught up in the spirit of the exhibition even tried to take off his Star Wars T-shirt, before being halted by his father. People mingled around the spread of cheese, crackers, grapes and Sauvignon Blanc wine. The crowd was overwhelmingly drawn to Harvey's exhibition, fluctuating between seriously analyzing the work and tittering at the magazine cut-outs of extreme close-ups of modern nude photography that served as wallpaper. (Note: a fun game to play with these cut-outs is Guess the Body Crease. Don't worry everybody's a winner!)
Maybe it was the realization that nudity is as natural a state of any other or maybe it was the Sauvignon Blanc, but we left the Bass Museum of Art with a healthier relationship with our bodies. At least until we have to look at ourselves in a full-length mirror.
Ellen Harvey's "The Nudist Museum" is exhibiting through November 7th at The Bass Museum of Art. Admission is $8 for non members, $6 dollars for seniors and students with ID's.