The exploration of nudity in contemporary art gains momentum through prominent thematic exhibitions such as Sotheby’s The Nude in the XX and XXI Century (2015), which is considered as the most representative, expressive and complete presentation of the nude in contemporary art. With the curatorship of Jean Neal, that exhibition included works by 31 artists, including Pablo Picasso, Tamara de Lempicka, Marina Abramović, Gustav Klimt and Jonathan Yeo, among other outstanding artists.
Beofre that, in 2013, the Museé D’Orsay of Paris showcased Masculine / Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day, a reflection on the evolution of male nudity in art, while the Leopold Museum in Vienna exhibited Nackte Männer (Nude Men), a collection that comprised works that date from the period of Enlightenment in late 18th century, to the present day.
The work of Amedeo Modigliani Reclining Nude (on the Left Side) has recently been auctioned off for $170.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York. In the last three years, both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have auctioned works with similar themes and values that exceed $100 million.
Reclining Nude, another work by Amedeo Modigliani, recently sold for $181 million in November 2015 at Christie’s, in New York, while Women of Algiers, by Pablo Picasso, was sold for 179.3 million in May 2015. Another work by Picasso known as Young Girl with a Flower Basket sold for $115 million in a charity auction by Christie’s in May 2018. All this show how prevalent nudity has become in art.
Strokes of anthropomorphic representations on ancient rock walls showcase the fascination of humans with their physical form. Thousands of years passed until Mesopotamian artists could value and stylize human figures, although this art was limited to epic and religious situations. However, there was enough freedom in Indo-European cultures for them to separate beautifully naked and moving bodies carrying out daily activities away from religiosity.
As for artists from Ancient Greece and Rome, they showed off their creative freedom by exploring the perfection of forms to the smallest details and expressions, resulting in masterpieces showcasing conceptual beauty and perfection that continue to amaze individuals due to their precision. By overcoming the rigid norms imposed by religious art, the artists of the Renaissance—such as Titian (Venus de Urbino, 1538)—resumed the ongoing search for the expressive beauty of bodies by painstakingly depicting their art in fabrics, frescoes and murals.
Whereas during the modern period, avant-garde painters like Amedeo Modigliani (Nude lying down, 1917/18), Pablo Picasso (Young girl with a flower basket, 1905), Gustave Courbet (The Origin of the World, 1866) and others portray a great creative freedom that explore the human body in its nudity and spiritual expressivity.
As Jean Neal, curator of the exhibition “The Nude in the XX and XXI Century,” stated, while the idealization of nudity has persisted in art history, artists began to address this issue with a greater sense of realism, in a rather harsh and revulsive way, as the ongoing search continues. ■