Naked at the Naked Men

A video by Der Standard shows how some press filming the event attempted to give the impression of being nude while reporting | Photo:

Leopold’s nude event made the front page in Vienna, with plenty of visuals | Photo: Heute

Post-strip verdict: the Naked Men exhibit is easier to enjoy with your clothes on | Photo: Bildit

Leopold’s nude event made the front page in Vienna, with plenty of visuals

Leopold’s nude event made the front page in Vienna, with plenty of visuals | Photo: Heute

The Nackte Männer exhibit at the Leopold Museum has been a hot topic in Vienna since it opened in October – provoking a lot of good banter and not a few jokes on the subject of male nakedness in art. So why are female nudes everywhere in art, when the slightest glimpse of a male you-know-what still has people covering their eyes?

Inquiring minds want to know!

So when the news broke of a special after-hours tour of the exhibit, by popular demand from nudist groups – “Freikörperkultur” – where attendees as well as art would be unclothed, we were on it in a flash.

We called the Leopold and registered for two, explaining we wanted to share in this quirky, private pleasure, and also to talk to the other participants, so we could write a descriptive scene of the evening. The press office stressed that only nude visitors would be allowed, to discourage gawkers and voyeurs. Guides and guards would be clothed, but, well, that was to be expected. We would come to participate, I emphasised, to get impressions, and picture the scene in words.

A group of men stood silently outside watching as we entered and headed for the coat check to strip and stuff our clothes in bags before entering the exhibit. Benches in the entry hall were filling up, also with men, all clothed and armed with iPhones. Were they waiting for friends? No. They were staring. Maybe also filming.

It got worse. Upstairs, both the hall and first room were swarming with press, armed with video equipment and cameras. Otherwise, our impressions were of enough back hair to carpet the entire museum with some left over for the MUMOK next door, and two naked men with Franz Joseph’s trademark muttonchops.


Just from behind?

“We didn’t know there would be photographers,” we protested to a press liaison.

“They’re only allowed in the first two rooms,” she reassured us, so if we moved through quickly, we could presumably shake them. “And they must ask your permission.” A pie-crust promise (easily made, easily broken), the photographers scattered quickly throughout the exhibition, taking advantage of lack of clarity over boundaries between rooms, snapping and filming with abandon. As two women in a sea of men, we were irresistible. We asked not to be photographed; only a few lowered their cameras, while others pleaded “just from behind”. Denied, they resorted to begging, and finally, glared in scorn before moving on. Little chance to glimpse the art, with so many photographers in between.

In fact, from the moment we shed our clothes, we were ogled even by others undressing – not exactly supporting the ideal of the easy-going Freikörperkultur. We’d quickly attracted a “follower”. Like many men present, he was flabby and overweight, his body covered in tattoos only semi-visible through ubiquitous body hair, and sported an unmistakable intimate piercing. He lingered as we disrobed, then darted along trying to engage us in conversation as if we were in a pub.

I’ve never been chatted up in a museum while dressed, much less naked – so it’s safe to say that here, nudity was automatically seen as sexual, and voyeurism the name of the game, in an atmosphere of hot pursuit. The only other women had come with men, and were joined at the hip.

Post-strip verdict: the Naked Men exhibit is easier to enjoy with your clothes on

Post-strip verdict: the Naked Men exhibit is easier to enjoy with your clothes on | Photo: Bildit














With no restraints on the media, we hurried ahead of the crowd, trying to shake our uninvited companion and the unwanted attention that had bombarded us since entry. We reached an empty room and plotted our next move – the frenetic energy and buzz of sexual desperation were too uncomfortable to endure. A guard had followed us into this otherwise empty room, eyes flicking towards us while playing with his iPhone. Suddenly he held it up and pointed, angling for a good shot.

“No photos,” I said firmly. “Why not?” he pleaded. It was unbelievable. The event had devolved into hunters and hunted, fuelled by poor organisation, and the voyeuristic mood had made stalking acceptable: First photographers passing through a curtained division between rooms upstairs, then lining staircases and elevator banks, and now, finally, the guards themselves. Once they’d admitted fully clothed press, why not partake in the spoils?

After seven years of art modelling, I know what it means to honour the human body in an artistic setting. I’ve worked to dispel a common perception of models as demimondaines, and the all-too-common reactions of those who see nudity as exhibitionism – and an art model as one step shy of a stripper.


Stripped of consent

This event was destroying the credibility of the artistic endeavour, presenting nudity as something to be gawked at, saying that anyone who takes their clothes off provides de facto consent for invasive attention.

They’ve removed society’s privacy barrier.

And when a camera comes out, the dynamic in a room immediately changes. Watching a video posted online the next day, I noted that cameramen filmed the scene on a floor below from one above. Consent wasn’t a factor, much less a concern.

“We trusted that press would be polite and careful,” Press/PR Assistant Anna Suette told me afterwards. But the scene the way it was, no one stood a chance.

You may say the ladies protest too much. After all, we went willingly, knowing we’d be nude. And even after seeing the swarming frenzy of present media, we still stripped down and went through with it. But we’d trusted that the blitz at the beginning was only to get some titillating publicity out of the event before settling into the private experience of the art, and the intimacy – devoid of overt sexual tones – that accompanies artistic nudity, the body in its simplest state of form, line and shape. It was not to be had, at least not yet and not here.

As for what the “Naked Men” exhibit is like, I couldn’t say. It was impossible to focus on any art when you’ve unwittingly become the exhibit yourself.


For a dressed review of the Nackte Männer exhibit see: “Anatomy of a Controversy:

All the Nude Men”, TVR Dec., 2012


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