Naked Not Nude

By Jo Phillips

Public Interventions is Spencer Tunick’s first gallery show in ten years and features new and unseen work. His giant naked human landscapes defy genres and transform public spaces. Figurative yet abstract, inherently public, yet at the same time deeply intimate: They depict sincere unity and wild differences. The photographs are simultaneously painterly, sculptural, yet at the same time are installations. Here we ask Spencer a little about his working creative world about how the ideas of the contrary counter position of naked bodies in land and cityscapes came to be. Find out more in Naked Not Nude Here

Image on left New York 2.1 Spencer Tunick Grand Central 2003.

Spencer Tunick (USA, New York, 1967) is a Contemporary artist-photographer, renowned for his colossal nude shoots and human installations around the world.

In his latest exhibition, Public Interventions, a selection of pieces reflects the artist’s work with abstraction, adornment, traditional group portraiture and the “body without clothing.” This isTunick’s first solo exhibition in the Netherlands, and includes new and unseen works.

Spencer Tunick staged his first depictions of nude bodies in urban landscapes in nineties New York. Despite public nudity being legal at the time, the artist was arrested by the city government. This demanded an action plan that worked like a Swiss clock to avoid trouble with the police.

While nudity was a provocative spectacle in the early works, the artist merely perceives it as “the body without clothing.” Consider the hundreds of painted, blue bodies in the Sea of Hull, which transform an anonymous street into an abstract display of a (human) body of water traversing through the city. Nudity is a prop similar to other effects such as fabric, paint, or solar lights; it activates the space in an energetic way.

Hull 2.1 (Ferens Art Gallery) Spencer Tunick 2016

If any genre applies to Spencer Tunick’s oeuvre, it is that of the group photograph. Tunick gathers up to thousands of people, orchestrating their positions with great care. In a time where being photographed nude is a common practice, Tunick elevates the genre to create a meeting point between contemporary art and its audience. This is evident in Columbia, where the gilded environment is brimming with people located at every corner of the frame. However, each seated person has their back turned to the stage, glaring straight at the camera, and as such, eventually gazing at the audience of the photograph. The boundaries between spectated and the spectator becomes blurred as Tunick reveals the complex relationships inherent to photography: the memorialization of a group becomes an electrifying and dynamic moment.

Columbia (Bogota Museum of Modern Art) Spencer Tunick 2016

The masses of bodies – what the artist calls “the body in multiple” – is an undeniably captivating feature of Tunick’s practice. Bodo Bodyscape is an ode to this phenomenon, as human bodies are folded over a hillside overlooking a small Norwegian city at the break of dawn. Each person is holding a solar light in their out-stretched arms, mirroring the city lights in the background. As a piece of land art, Tunick utilizes the body as his organic material to create transient sculptures in natural environments. In a trend that traverses his entire career, he plays carefully on oppositions between public and private, and organic and synthetic. Ultimately, Tunick turns cities into bodies, bodies into cities, and renders the familiar unprecedently enchanting.

Wild Color (Melbourne) Spencer Tunick 2018

For many that have seen his works or even engaged but don’t have a great understanding, Tunick is very generous and engaging about explaining his work so all can be included. He says:-

‘ began photographing nude individuals on the streets of New York City in the early 90s. The work at that time was more of a narrative or portraiture. It was meeting friends in the pre-dawn of New York City to co-create these odd, surreal, whimsical individual portraits. One-on-one with people. After a while, word got around, and more and more people wanted to pose, so before I knew it, I had many people wanting to participate in my individual portraits. I only could work on weekends because I was always trying to avoid pedestrians and car traffic and only on weekends at sunrise were the streets empty. As my weekends filled up with shoots, I found that a lot of people were disappointed that I could not photograph them because of the limited time in the calendar as Summer and the warm weather were short in the North Eastern United States. So because of these practical limitations, I began thinking of ways to accommodate everyone. This was when I started grouping multiple people in one shot. It was then that I saw something in the work begins to change and that excited me. When the bodies are grouped, they begin to lose their individuality and become more of a substance against or a part of a location. I knew I wanted to continue to explore that. It is from that early transformation of the work from Individuals to groups that my work evolved into what it is today’.

Pink Spirits (Melbourne) Spencer Tunick 2018

So we at .Cent asked him the following questions for a deeper relationship with his images.

Which artists made you want to become an artist?

Yayoi Kusama was the most influential, in particular her New York nude happenings in the 60s. Other artists, I was inspired by were Carolee Schneemann,  Nancy Rubins, Richard Long and Robert Smithson.  

Why nudes what is it about the naked body that so compels you to use it?

It’s the relationship between the natural world and the concrete world that compels me.  The human form is the connection between them. 

Why always public spaces?

The naked body is an explosion of life in public settings. It wakes up the public to art and freedom.

What is vital about human nudity for you?

That a nude can be represented as dignified and honourable.

Why do you choose the location?  and what is the relationship between location and the human body?

I look at the streets and pavement as much as I study the cityscape. I want the people to transform the space.

As a journey as an artist what were the vital steps that you took to get where you are now?

My mother went to art school in New York City at Parsons. She always took me to museums since I was a young kid.  My earliest memories involve seeing art on white walls. From drawings of colossal ice cream popsicles by Claes Oldenburg, to seeing Henri Rousseau’s The Dream at MOMA, in New York City. I was also fascinated by Falling Water, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. So the vital steps began by being exposed to art, architecture and museums at a very young age.

My father was a photographer and so were my grandfather and great grandfather. They were not art photographers but I always had cameras to play around with growing up. My family introduced me to art and loaned me the tools to start my journey as an artist that lead me to where I am now. 

Tell us about the relationship between a single nude and the group of nudes for you in your work.

In 1990 I shot my first single nude in public in the parking lot of a supermarket in upstate NY. I enjoyed the experience of working outdoors and not being confined to an interior space. By 1994 I had so many people that wanted to pose for me in my individual nude street portraits, that it would have taken me years to execute each individual one.  So I decided to contact everyone waiting and for everyone to meet me at the United Nations. This first group work is the exhibit at Reflex Gallery. I guess I’m a people pleaser. I didn’t want to disappoint people. So I made my first group work as a way to make people happy.

Desert Spirits by Spencer Tunick (2013)

What creatively rocks your boat?

Honestly, my family makes me so happy. I enjoy my wife Kristin Bowler’s paintings and sometimes I collaborate with her. She sometimes paints on my photographs and for other collaborations we have people holding up her paintings of women’s heads.  Her works can be found on Instagram @kystlpink Both my kids draw really well. One wants to be an astrophysicist and not an artist but she is incredibly talented at drawing, and it blows me away. And my youngest kid paints so well. He is always surprising me. So I guess creative families rock my boat. 

The Reflex Amsterdam represents over 30 contemporary artists. Next to this, the gallery has long-standing expertise in sourcing works in both primary and secondary markets. Alongside its six annual exhibitions, the gallery is specialized in producing books, prints, and exclusive limited editions in close collaboration with its artists.

Public Interventions runs from 17 September 2022 at Reflex Amsterdam, Weteringschans 79, 1017 RX, Amsterdam. For more details, visit

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