Wednesday, March 1, 2017
NERVE / The New Nude (2000) by Genevieve Field, Ed.
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989, HIV/AIDS) blew out all the boundaries of the "Last Taboo" (see Wesley Morris in The New York Times Mag, 10.13.16, p. 48) when he exhibited a veritable phallic phalanx of black penises, all playing into the "national terror of black sexuality." In 1990, the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center ("CAC") was charged with obscenity based on the homoerotcism displayed in Mapplethorpe's retrospective The Perfect Moment. Years later, CAC restaged the exhibit under the title After the Moment in 2015 marking the 25th anniversary, bringing in a variety of artists who now navigate a changing artistic landscape since Mapplethorpe.
If anyone has taken the baton since 1989, it is Nan Goldin, whose book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was the culmination of living with and recording friends in bohemian New York. Goldin's work is featured in the Nerve book. Other contributors include Leslie Lyons (who contributed the dramatic book cover), Sylvia Plachy, Greg Friedler, Robert Maxwell and Charles Gatewood. Genevieve Field notes that the body is a "palimpsest upon which biographies are written and erased over the course of a lifetime....it is the source of life and a document of erosion; and it is both loved and despisd for its elemental sexuality." Photographers seek trust in the relationship between artist and model even more so than painters and sculptors. The artist needs the subject's expressive offerings. Nerve's "new nude" explores the subject's humanity and sexual character as well as the photographer's vision.
The old masters of photography avoided the sexuality of their subjects by applyig the rules od still-life photography. They understood light and didn't want their models to upstage it. The photographers painted a mood but it rarely emanated from the model. New photographers read the body by coaxing it out of its standard vocabulary of gestures and poses to express an unscripted state of mind. The empathy between photographer and subject allows an exploitative dynamic rather than being merely voyeuristic. Field notes "It is what allows a sexually charged image to transcend the pretentiousness of erotica and the egotism of pornography."
Well the "new nudes" can't be tweeted but they can be "selfies." Unabashedly pointing their lenses "at the grity corners of their own sexual lives, these photographers are upturning and upstaging the visual cliche of the passive, fawn-eyed muse."