ART & LIT REVIEW: Exposed – The Naked Portrait @ Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Richard Victor Grey-Ellis; Anthony Sobers, Isa Kar, 2005 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The exhibition runs at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle until 3rd March 2019

Without clothes, we are exposed. Unable to hide ourselves or express ourselves through what we wear, all we have is our naked form. For some, this is liberating; for others, intimidating. This is the thrill and vulnerability of being exposed.

Exposed is a unique collaboration between the Laing and the National Portrait Gallery. Built on a small exhibition of the same name of twelve portraits and photos from the National Portrait Gallery, this larger collection at the Laing has expanded on the theme to create a more extensive exploration of this provocative subject. With no plans to tour this exhibition, this is a unique opportunity to view this diverse collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs and video at the same time in the same place. Some of the images will be familiar; you’ll recognise them from adverts and magazines. But nothing compares to the experience of gazing upon the original bromide print of Lewis Morley’s iconic image of a naked Christine Keeler, sitting with her legs astride a chair turned backwards, displayed with the original contact sheet.

There’s a narrative running through the exhibition, a thread that starts with a selection of nudes, drawing on the academic tradition of painting the human form in an idealised, pure way. The subject is anonymous; it’s the beauty of the body that is important here. Moving on to naked portraits, where the sitter is known and there is a relationship between the artist and the sitter, the collection explores Bodies of Desire, walking that fine line between graphic and pornographic. Walking into the second room entitled Reclaiming the Body, you enter a more open space where there’s more freedom and light, not only in the setting, but in the portraits too. Here, the subject is reclaiming control of how he/she is portrayed. There’s a lightness of being, a self-confidence that asserts ‘this is who I am’. For Polly Borland’s portrait of Germaine Greer, it was Greer’s own idea to take her clothes off – “I don’t usually have any clothes on in that room and I don’t have any clothes on for a good half of my life”. The resulting portrait is an empowering yet light-hearted image of a confident, mature woman who is comfortable in her own skin. This liberating and joyous nakedness is reinforced in the next photo, Swannell’s joyful and carefree portrait of Kirsti and Oliviero Toscani naked on a beach on the Ivory Coast.

Naked portraits can be flattering or honest, seductive or shocking, vulnerable or liberating. There are examples of all of these here. However, what underpins this exhibition is that each and every body is a work of art. Whatever we have each been programmed to believe about our body, this thought-provoking, liberating exhibition serves to unshackle us from seeing ourselves as anything but a work of art.

Every human being is radiant, just as she/he is. May we reject anything that suggests otherwise.

 

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