NUDE (Review)

Manifest Gallery offers fully exposed, playful, revealing show

Critic's Pick

Looking for the right kind of art show to fill East Walnut Hills’ Manifest Gallery during the hot days and nights of August, chief curator Jason Franz has decided to go NUDE.

The show, an addition to the planned original season of eight exhibitions, opened Friday and continues through Sept. 11. It reflects the upbeat attitude of the non-profit gallery, which appears to be thriving despite the recession. Franz has also been able to hire on volunteers Tim Parsley and Laura McNeel as paid staff.

“We had never done an exclusively nude show before,” Franz says. “It represents the gallery looking at a subject that we also study in the studio (Manifest also runs a Drawing Center studio). The studio is really half of Manifest, so we figure it’s the proper thing to do to balance it out.”

Out of 600 submissions for NUDE, the jury narrowed the selections, and Franz ultimately selected 25 works to exhibit. It is interesting that of these 25 nudes, almost half are depictions of men.

Artist Zachari Logan blends modern and classical themes of masculinity in ways that distort male bravado. Men are made to look ridiculous while engaged in macho activities. As examples, the slugger hunches over first base without any pants on and the hunter, fully nude, stares down the barrel of his own rifle.

Logan’s graphite drawing “Invincible” (2009) is of a modern-day Saint Sebastian. Logan’s figure is idealized; exuding power and sexuality, but he is also mortally wounded. The body is riddled with bullet holes rather than penetrated by arrows as in classical depictions. The figure has a bullet hole through his neck and another through his thigh right at the point of a major artery. Two fatal wounds and yet Logan’s figure is very much alive, invincible.

The title, however, is ironic. Such artists as the Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna partially shroud the male torso of Saint Sebastian, but Logan’s figure is fully, defiantly exposed. He wears a few adornments, including a gold chain and a stud in his left ear. His forearms are tattooed and his penis is uncircumcised. Yet these attributes only serve to emphasize his vulnerability. He looks like a thug, but a stripped-down one. This Saint Sebastian doesn’t even have a loincloth for protection.

Valerie Patterson’s watercolor “Arrival” is that moment in dreams when we suddenly realize we are naked in public. Like a dream, the painting is non-linear; there is no beginning and no explanation for how this nude woman got to a street corner in New York City. There is only the moment of arrival. Her feet are firmly grounded, and she leans slightly forward.

She is ready to take a step but uncertain if she should. Her back is to the viewer so we cannot see her expression. Is she horrified, embarrassed or reveling in her nudity? Is she a Lady Godiva, riding naked through Coventry, England, on her horse? There is, in the painting, the shock value of public nudity, but there is also something more personal. She is just a woman, arriving on a crowded street, completely overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of New York City life.

Being that Manifest is a gallery for the community; the curatorial staff has given some thought to the public’s perception of nudity. Franz chose the layout of NUDE based on what he felt was the best ordering of the work. Whether beautiful or confrontational, each nude found a place in the gallery and Franz says there was no self-censorship at play.

“Even though we feel like we have the right and the responsibility to show this work to the public, we wanted to be sensitive to the community,” he says. “We also want to challenge the community, so we’re tiptoeing the line.”

NUDE runs through Sept. 11 at Manifest Gallery in Walnut Hills. Get details on the show and the gallery here.

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