Extended through November 19, 2016
The nude is not the subject of art, but a form of art.
Nude: From Modigliani to Currin presents depictions of the human body from the eve of modernism to the present day. From Paul Cézanne’s Baigneurs (c. 1890–95) and Baigneurs Debout (1876) and Edvard Munch’s harrowing Madonna (1895–97) to Charles Ray’s Young Man (2012), this exhibition considers the nude as an infinitely suggestive material and form.
With the rise of modernism—exemplified here by works including Amedeo Modigliani’s Nue couché aux bras levés (1916) and Pablo Picasso’s Nue endormie (1932)—representations of the human body moved away from the idealized and romantic toward fragmented, erotic distortions that reflected shifting ideas about human psychology and perception. Marcel Duchamp’s iconoclastic Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), represented here by a color pochoir from 1937, offers a refracted view of a body in dynamic motion, relating to the Cubist isolation of body parts into signs and symbols to be assembled and disassembled at will. In Alberto Giacometti’s Figure moyenne II (1947), the existential anxiety of the postwar era coalesces in an emaciated figure in cast bronze, the very embodiment of human fragility.
In René Magritte’s Surrealist tableaux such as L’embellie (The Break in the Clouds) (1942) and Clairvoyance (1965), the body is a motif like any other, detached from its traditional associations and transposed into a world of cryptic subconscious, while in Yves Klein’s performative Anthropometries, such as Monique (ANT 59) (1960), the naked female body is covered in paint and pressed directly against canvas to produce a direct impression, rather than being a mediated, scopic view. The dynamism of Francis Bacon’s Two Figures on a Couch (1967) lies in its abandonment of the classical human form, as well as its sustained investigation of movement captured, with limbs blending into torqued masses of flesh.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Pop art dramatically reconfigured aesthetic approaches to the nude. As exemplified in the work of Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and Roy Lichtenstein, artists began to glean imagery from glossy magazines and the graphic arts. Warhol’s Walking Torso (1977) forgoes centuries of traditional practice for commercial silkscreen processes in order to repeat images mechanically, introducing incremental shifts that evoke cinematic sequencing. In David Hockney’s The Room Tarzana (1967), dramatic tension is built where graphic blues and greens make up a flat, static image of a bare-bottomed boy lying face-down on a bed in a brightly lit room.
With Lucian Freud’s Night Portrait (1977–78) and Jenny Saville’s Trace (1993–94), the dense tactility of oil paint effects the sensation of flesh, together with its enigmas, troubles, and desires. Willem de Kooning’s Untitled (c. 1966) is a typically expressionist homage to the abundance and sensuality of the female body. These corporeal qualities link contemporary painters to the innovations of their Renaissance forebears. While Jeff Koons’s porcelain sculpture Naked (1988) depicts a cloyingly precious moment between a young boy and girl—a gift-shop Adam and Eve—John Currin’s Nude with Raised Arms (1998) contains echoes of contorted Mannerist bodies, inflected with a newly sardonic eroticism.
The persistent impulse to depict the human body is present at every juncture in art history. In Gagosian’s ongoing series of diverse and engaging group shows, such as Go Figure (2009), Crash (2010), The Show Is Over (2013), and In the Studio (2015), Nude: From Modigliani to Currin is a lively and varied exploration, from the late nineteenth century into the present, of the limitless ways in which the human body is both the subject and means of artistic endeavor.
Featuring works by Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, Glenn Brown, Paul Cézanne, John Currin, Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, Lucian Freud, Alberto Giacometti, David Hockney, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Yves Klein, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, René Magritte, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Edvard Munch, Takashi Murakami, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Charles Ray, Jenny Saville, Egon Schiele, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann.
Willem de Kooning
Behind the Art
Tarzana on the Move
A courier’s story featuring David Hockney’s The Room, Tarzana (1967).
Jacquelynn Baas profiles Isabelle Waldberg, writing on the sculptor’s many friendships and the influence of her singular creations.
Private Pages Made Public
Megan N. Liberty explores artists’ engagement with notebooks and diaries, thinking through the various meanings that arise when these private ledgers become public.
On Collecting with Norman Diekman
Rare-book expert Douglas Flamm speaks with designer Norman Diekman about his unique collection of books on art and architecture. Diekman describes his first plunge into book collecting, the history behind it, and the way his passion for collecting grew.
Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.
Five Preoccupations: Jenny Saville
Jenny Saville shares a selection of the books, films, and more that have been her companions in the quiet of the shutdowns in recent months and as she looks ahead to a new exhibition next year.
It reminds me of something, and I don’t know what it is.
November 9–December 21, 2019
980 Madison Avenue, New York