Naked Men Draw Women, Enraged Philistines to Vienna

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Source: Lentos Museum/ Knoll Galerie via Bloomberg

"Vogue of Labour" by the Russian Blue Noses Group. It is on show at the Lentos Museum in Linz as part of "The Naked Man" which runs in parallel with an exhibition of male nudes at the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

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Source: Lentos Museum/ Knoll Galerie via Bloomberg

"Vogue of Labour" by the Russian Blue Noses Group. It is on show at the Lentos Museum in Linz as part of "The Naked Man" which runs in parallel with an exhibition of male nudes at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. Close

"Vogue of Labour" by the Russian Blue Noses Group. It is on show at the Lentos Museum in Linz as part of "The Naked... Read More

Source: Leopold Museum, Vienna via Bloomberg

"Seven Bathers" (circa 1900) by Paul Cezanne. The show runs through Jan. 28, 1013. Close

"Seven Bathers" (circa 1900) by Paul Cezanne. The show runs through Jan. 28, 1013.

Source: Lentos Museum/Tate via Bloomberg

"Leigh Bowery" (1991) by Lucian Freud. The Lentos Museum said it is the first Freud painting to ever go on display in Austria. Close

"Leigh Bowery" (1991) by Lucian Freud. The Lentos Museum said it is the first Freud painting to ever go on display in Austria.

Source: Lentos Museum, Linz/Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg via Bloomberg

"Thomas" (1987) Robert Mapplethorpe. The curator of the Lentos Museum show says it has attracted a high proportion of women visitors. Close

"Thomas" (1987) Robert Mapplethorpe. The curator of the Lentos Museum show says it has attracted a high proportion of women visitors.

Photographer: Manfred Thumberger/Leopold Museum via Bloomberg

"Prediger (Priest)" (1913) by Egon Schiele shows the artist in a blue shirt. The painting is in the Leopold Museum's exhibition of naked men, which runs through Jan. 28, 2013. Close

"Prediger (Priest)" (1913) by Egon Schiele shows the artist in a blue shirt. The painting is in the Leopold Museum's... Read More

Source: Leopold Museum via Bloomberg

A poster for "Naked Men" in Vienna. The Leopold Museum stuck a red stripe over the naked soccers after complaints from shocked Viennese. Close

A poster for "Naked Men" in Vienna. The Leopold Museum stuck a red stripe over the naked soccers after complaints... Read More

Source: Leopold Museum via Bloomberg

A portrait of Austrian painter Richard Gerstl, who portrayed himself naked weeks before his death. It is on show in "Naked Men" at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. He committed suicide in 1908 at the age of 28 after a failed love affair with the wife of the composer Arnold Schoenberg. Close

A portrait of Austrian painter Richard Gerstl, who portrayed himself naked weeks before his death. It is on show in... Read More

Photographer: Hertha Hurnaus/Lentos Museum, Linz/Galer Meyer Kainer, Vienna via Bloomberg

"Hescape" (2009) by Elke Silvia Krystufek. It is on show at the Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria. The museum’s exhibition, "The Naked Man," is on at the same time as "Naked Men" at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. Close

"Hescape" (2009) by Elke Silvia Krystufek. It is on show at the Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria. The museum’s... Read More

Source: Lentos Museum, Linz via Bloomberg

"Imperial Nude" (1975) by Sylvia Sleigh. It is part of an exhibition of male nudes at the Lentos Museum in Linz. By turning the model into a sex object, the artist flipped centuries of art history tradition which invariably featured women or goddesses scantily draped or not all all. Close

"Imperial Nude" (1975) by Sylvia Sleigh. It is part of an exhibition of male nudes at the Lentos Museum in Linz. By... Read More

Naked men are much more interesting than naked women. That might sound subjective and it is, partly. Yet I have some good arguments to back it up.

Austria is the place to go to ogle hundreds of men with no clothes on. Both the Leopold Museum in Vienna and the Lentos Museum in Linz -- independently and, apparently, coincidentally -- are exposing the male sex in big exhibitions.

Both museums report a rise in the proportion of female visitors. “It’s noticeable that there are a lot of young women between 25 and 30, sometimes in groups,” said Tobias Natter, director of the Leopold Museum. Many men, he said, seem ill at ease with the show. “Men tend to compare themselves with the artworks,” he said. “Women are much more relaxed.”

Naked men make a refreshing change. After all, female nudes have been a fixture of the art canon for centuries. Most of the artists who produced them, the collectors who bought them and the curators who displayed them were men. The interest in them is one-dimensional -- the focus is on their erotic value.

Male nudes carry many varied messages and tell us much more about the human condition.

Stripped down to their birthday suits, men can still be heroic, like Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. More recently, the French artist duo Pierre and Gilles portrayed three soccer players in full frontal, wearing nothing but their socks and sport shoes in “Vive la France.”

Red Stripe

Printed on the poster for the Leopold show, it served as a reminder that male nudity can still offend. The museum chose to cover parts of the picture with a red stripe after complaints.

Male nudes can also be vulnerable or tragic, like many historical images of Christ on the cross. The Austrian painter Albin Egger Lienz’s 1926 “Pieta” shows a pale corpse on a mortuary slab, his body foreshortened by the perspective.

Nude self-portraits can be brutal in their desire to expose. Albrecht Duerer turned his scientific attention to detail to his own body in an unsparing, astonishing “Self- Portrait as Nude” (1503-1505). He was recovering from a serious illness and the skin hangs loose from his flesh.

The convention of his time was to minimize genitals in the interests of decency. Duerer made no such compromises, and his own are life-sized and pendulous. He never intended this portrait for public consumption.

It took 500 years and Sigmund Freud for such rigorous self- examination to resurface. Egon Schiele’s nude self-portraits (there are examples in both Linz and Vienna) reveal an unsettling divergence between the provocative and melancholy.

Sad Affair

The most heart-breaking of the Leopold nude self-portraits is by the Austrian painter Richard Gerstl, who committed suicide at the age of 28 after a failed love affair with the wife of the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

The furrowed, intense face is strangely lit, the eyes stare with a blank intensity. Painted in 1908 just weeks before his death, it is the incarnation of despair and isolation.

Video offers new potential for self-exposure, and the Linz show has a courageous offering from Peter Land, a Danish artist. Land filmed himself in a shabby modern apartment, performing a striptease while dancing exceptionally badly to banal pop music.

He is overweight, clumsy, and wears a pair of saggy gray underpants and socks. At one point, he nearly falls over after getting a foot caught in his pant-leg. Yet he still manages to be endearing, while making a point about the modern fixation with sanitized, bland physical perfection. The catalogue says Land had to get drunk to make the film. It’s worth the hangover.

Camp Sebastian

Of course, male nudes can be erotic too, in the passive, eye-candy way of many female nudes. Think of all those camp St. Sebastians of the Renaissance, their pale skin helplessly exposed to a hail of penetrating arrows.

Both Linz and Vienna examine gay art; some of it reduces men to sex objects, some is explicit and provocative.

Linz does better than Vienna on female artists, with a fabulous painting by Sylvia Sleigh called “Imperial Nude” of a beautiful man reclining on a divan. Painted in 1975, it is very much of its era: It’s rare to see men with thick curly chest hair portrayed as sex objects these days.

Yet it was Elke Silvia Krystufek’s “Hescape” that made me think there should be more male nudes by women. Her man has a mane of dark hair and is lost in thought. It’s clear from her portrayal that she finds him attractive, yet it’s empathetic as well as erotic.

I can’t think of a single equivalent example of a female nude that makes me think I’d like to know the person. This is no objectification: Krystufek’s model retains his dignity and personality, even without his clothes.

Women were excluded from nude drawing classes at art schools until the 20th century, so have a lot of catching up to do. These new male nudes mark the start of a genre that could run for a few centuries more, if the male fascination with naked women is a guide.

“Nackte Maenner” (Nude Men) is at the Leopold Museum in Vienna through Jan. 28, 2013. “Der nackte Mann” (The Naked Man) is at the Lentos Museum in Linz through Feb. 17, 2013. For more information, go to: http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en and http://www.lentos.at

(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the reporter on the story: Catherine Hickley in Vienna at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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