Nudity? In an ART MUSEUM?

kathleen-neill-nudeThis is old news, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the hubub caused last week when a (live! nude! girl!) model posed for photographer Zach Hyman in the Met’s Arms and Armor gallery. Model Kathleen Neill was stopped by museum guards some 30 seconds after disrobing, and was arrested shortly thereafter.

On one hand, the photographer seems like publicity hound, and by posting this we’re playing right along with his plans. The lawyer’s statement: “There are nude sculptures and paintings all over the museum. It’s the height of stupidity accusing a live model of showing the same thing in a house of art” is spot on, except that Hyman has also posed his nude models in subways, so the “but there’s naked ladies EVERYwhere in a museum!” defense loses some credibility.

But look: fuck em if they can’t take a joke.

It’s a truism, but we’ll say it anyway. The history of art includes a long line of radicals challenging conservative tastes, often using sex and bodies. See: Lolita, Last Tango in Paris, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Manet’s Olympia, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and Sargent’s Madame X, which was considered so prurient in its day that the artist painted over an earlier version in which the model’s dress strap dangled from her shoulder. Oh, and Madame X hangs in–you guessed it–the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The fact that Neill is facing charges of public lewdness is disappointing. Will she have to register as a sex offender because of this? Come on, Met. You can do better than this.

A photo of Madam X as she originally appeared (1881)
A photo of Madam X as she originally appeared (1881)

In related news, the Gorilla/Guerrilla Girls’ take on female nudity at the Met:

“In 1995, a “weenie count” done by the Guerrilla Girls at the Metropolitan Museum showed that 85 percent of the pieces that depicted nudes depicted naked women while only five percent of the displayed artworks were created by women. This statistic prompted one of the Guerrilla Girls’ critiques, a poster asking, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”

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Madame X as she appears today, with strap on shoulder (1883-4)

So the question is, do women have to be naked images to get into the Met?