Bare Skin at Leopold Museum in Vienna

A few days ago, the streets of Vienna were full of naked men, and it made the locals quite nervous. They were not real men, of course, but posters — some of them quite explicit — advertising an exhibition entitled “Nackte Manner” (Nude Men) at the city’s Leopold Museum.


But the decision to advertise the show with giant versions of some of the works that went on display has proved controversial.

Pierre et Gilles, Vive la France

“We got many, many complaints,” Klaus Pokorny, a spokesman for the museum says. “We didn’t realise that many, many people would be really upset or really angry in a way that we are also afraid about security, about protection of the visitors.” Museum director Tobias Natter says the flap serves to point out “that nobody gets offended by naked women, but with naked men: yes.”

Paul Cézanne, les Sept baigneurs, 1900

Nude women are not a rarity in fine arts; many exhibitions have already dealt with this topic. But naked men have been neglected up until now. That changes with the show at the Leopold Museum: Including works of top-class artists the exhibition “Naked Men” spans the period from the Enlightenment in the 18th century until the present, supplemented by important reference works from ancient Egypt, Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. The presentation is showing different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.

François-Léon Benouville, la colère d’Achille, 1847

Beginning with Ancient Greece as a standard and a pretense for later sexually explicit images, the exhibition then addresses the depiction of bathing men at the end of the 19th century. Another focus is on the nude self-portraits of the Expressionists Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl as well as the change in the perception of naked men after 1945.

Egon Schiele, Prediger, 1913

On display are works by Albrecht Dürer, Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Giovanni Giacometti, Egon Schiele, Maria Lassnig, Andy Warhol, Alfred Hrdlicka, Günter Brus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Heimo Zobernig and others.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Shepherd Boy (Tank Top), 2009

Jean Cocteau, Querelle de Brest, 1947

The museum decided to cover the “intimate parts” of the images with red strips of paper and the exhibition went ahead as planned.
This includes posters of a controversial photo taken by Pierre & Gilles called Vive la France, which shows three football players wearing socks in blue, white and red (the French tricolor) and nothing else.

“We are not really happy about the situation,” said Mr. Pokorny about the changes. “You always hope that we have made progress, that we are now in the 21st century.”


The Leopold Museum “Naked Men” is running from October 2012 until January 2013.

Leopold Museum
Museumsplatz 1
1070 Wien

Image source: Leopold Museum
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