Magazine article Art Monthly

Spencer Tunick

Magazine article Art Monthly

Spencer Tunick

Article excerpt

Spencer Tunick Baltic Gateshead January 21 to March 26

Spencer Tunick's installations predictably make for great press and plenty of column inches. His process--that of inviting hundreds or even thousands of people to simultaneously pose naked in the great cities of the world--is unique, titillating, spectacular and weird. For participants, as I was for the Newcastle-Gateshead work, it is all the above and a great leveller, liberating and unusual, if rather chilly.

You could say that Tunick is onto a good thing, a guaranteed money-spinner and a lifetime of exotic travel. Furthermore, he ticks a lot of boxes for publicly funded galleries. He has an accessible USP and inherent marketing punch. Want to engage a new audience with a precisely measurable number of individuals? Stage a Tunick and then invite the participants to their own special preview, crowding the gallery to capacity. Thrill to the joy of seeing them really look at the work, examining every visual inch, before triumphantly singing out to friends and family: 'That's me! There's you!' or slightly disturbingly, 'there's my father!'

The opening of Baltic's Tunick exhibition was a curator's dream, but what about the art? For all the frothy column inches and big photographic spreads, there has not been much consideration of the quality of the work. His very marketability, it seems, is in danger of obscuring his artistry.

His process is enormously rich, involving as it does, the willing collusion of his naked collaborators. Ostensibly, Tunick is in control, puppetmaster on a grand scale, seeing each naked person as a tool, a tiny piece of texture in his viewfinder vision. But there is anxiety for him here, because collusion can turn to rebellion with a moment's miscalculation. He must use organisation and skill to keep his naked people on message for the duration. In reality, both power and reward is shared in a delicate balance; Tunick's artistic need is fulfilled through the grace of his participants.

The Baltic's show then is the culmination of the extraordinary Tunick process. He has produced seven prints and a documentary video, all fitting neatly into one room. Facing visitors as they enter is a vast image of several hundred people, lying interlocked with their heads resting on the thighs of the person next to them. Beautifully composed, it becomes a tender display of interdependency, serenity and trust. …

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