GRIN AND BARE IT, FOR ART'S SAKE; Everyone Gets Naked for Conceptual Photo Shoot

By Marshall, Konrad | The Florida Times Union, October 17, 2007 | Go to article overview

GRIN AND BARE IT, FOR ART'S SAKE; Everyone Gets Naked for Conceptual Photo Shoot


Marshall, Konrad, The Florida Times Union


Byline: KONRAD MARSHALL

MIAMI BEACH - I stood atop a plastic chair, at the edge of a balcony at a beachfront hotel, ready to take the plunge, ready to get naked for the sake of post-modern art.

I was ready, but ready in the way a first-time diver might be ready on the high platform, or a mutineer might be ready at the end of a long plank.

For more than a week, I had been looking forward to taking part in one of Spencer Tunick's famed conceptual art installations, in which the literal body becomes the figurative body of work, in which people strip en masse for a man with a camera. But now - with onlookers standing to my right, a gaggle of giggling photographers to my left (one with specific instructions to train his camera on me) - nerves took hold.

"Don't worry," a nearby woman assured me. "I've seen it all before."

But she hadn't seen my all before. None of these people had. This was lunacy. This was standing on a karaoke stage and realizing you don't have the pipes to sing Folsom Prison Blues.

The walkie-talkie in the hand of a volunteer behind me crackled to life with a garbled command from the avant-garde master, who was standing in front of me in a cherry picker.

Everyone can get naked. Copy. Over.

"OK, everyone!" Tunick said through his bullhorn. "Disrobe."

Like some compliant underling, I obliged, leaving every stitch of fabric on the ground.

The woman on my left released a deep, nervous breath. "All in the name of art, right?"

Did I mention that we were naked? Did I mention that we were perched on plastic chairs on top of a six-story building - with the hand rail at knee level?

"Relax," Tunick said. "Look ahead, but not at me. Don't smile. Don't smile! Now turn around. Now turn to the left."

A calm came over me. The South Florida sun beat down on me in places where the sun don't shine, kissing my pasty light skin. A breeze came wafting off the turquoise waters of South Beach. The tender caress was exhilarating, exciting even (though thankfully, not too exciting). And I suddenly understood how the experience is part of the art, why Tunick refers to his work as "installation" rather than photography. As Marshall McLuhan once said, the medium is the message, and I was the medium.

'ON CLOSER INSPECTION . . .'

Tunick's press agents and assorted media took great pains to emphasize how the installation drew all types of "models" - policemen, doctors, teachers, etc.

But on closer inspection - though not too close - the crowd was overwhelmingly bohemian. Art students. Artists. Art dealers. Nudists. Sixty-three-year-old women with Brazilian bikini waxes. NPR listeners. Etc.

At least there was an array of body types, both stout and slim, petite and paunchy, men and women both over- and under-endowed.

Skin came as tanned as a leather, and as porcelain white as the hotels lining the beach. …

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