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Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: Museums in the Nudes

Posted by Phillippa Pitts on October 14, 2013 in Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic |

by columnist Madeline Karp

There is a trend here in Philadelphia that I think you should know about.

It’s called “Boy-lesque” and it combines burlesque dancing – an artistically-minded nude show – with boys. You could call it male stripping…but that’s not exactly accurate. It’s more about pushing the audience past their comfort zone than the sex. It forces you to talk about objectification, and to think about gender, and consider what it is, exactly, that makes you so squeamish about naked people. (After all, we’re all naked under our clothes, right?)

The thing is, classic burlesque dancing has become passé in the age of HBO and Fifty Shades of Grey. It has lately been repurposed to empower women and promote positive body image. It could be used to talk about serious issues, but it’s hard to shock someone into discussion when the shock of seeing mostly naked women in public has all but worn off.

But mostly naked men? It’s apparently still as shocking as ever.

It seems that Philadelphia Boy-lesque dancers on to something – many museums in Europe are dedicating exhibits to sex and the male form.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is now hosting “Masculine/Masculine” an exhibit dedicated to the male nude in art. It was a risky choice, but it’s also proving to be a wildly successful one.

The exhibit is drawing in approximately 4,500 viewers a day (more than triple the number the museum saw this time last year), has been ranked by Marie Claire magazine as the “hottest” event of the fall season, and was the topic to discuss at Paris Fashion Week 2013.

Not only is it drawing attention to a wide range of works (exhibited pieces include classics Picasso and Munch, modern Warhols, and ultra-modern photographs of Eminem holding a firecracker over his business), but it’s drawing in a younger audience. Did I mention that most of the works shown are already in the museum’s collection and have been for many years? Holy budget-friendly reinterpretation, Batman!

Now you might think, “Oh, but this is all in France, and the French have always been more liberal about sex and nudity than we Puritanical Americans.”

Yes. However.

Paris has recently been the site of anti-gay and anti-gay marriage protests, as well as a focal point for a wave of neo-social conservatism in France. It should come as no surprise then that Masculine/Masculine is causing a huge social stir.

Like Boy-leqsue, one could interpret Masculine/Masculine as an overtly sensational exhibit that’s using sex to draw numbers. But if you did that, you’d be missing the point. As Amelie Hardivilier, a spokeswoman for the Musée d’Orsay, put it, “This is an exhibition that cannot be separated from the debate in the streets of France right now, but it shows a museum that reflects the society of today, and that’s really the concept. Our aim is not to provoke, to be militant or to create a scandal. We have to look for people in different ways.”

And maybe it’s not such a bad idea to look at people in different ways, too.

What do you think? Do exhibitions like Boy-lesque and Masculine/Masculine foster discussions and new interpretations of art and the male form? Or are they simply spectacles to be written off as sensational? Tell me what you think in the comments!

To learn more about American Boy-leqsue click here, or here.

To read more about Masculine/Masculine, click here, here, or here.

 

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