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Borzello not Bordello
on 20 October 2012
This is a different kind of art book on the subject of the nude, intentionally transcending and distancing itself from the beautiful acceptable nude as portrayed in classical art, as well as the opinions expressed in the culturally influential book by Sir Kenneth Clark, 'The Nude', which subtracted the embarrassment factor from nude art mainly by deleting its sexuality and imperfection. Frances Borzello takes the reader into an avant-guard world where the art of the erotic, the primitive, the ugly, the bestial, the repellent, the almost pornographic, are presented, not as idealized forms, but as new art statements confounding those who believed there was nothing left to say on the subject of the nude after Rodin. The text discusses the art of many international artists working in the 20th and 21st centuries who, perhaps surprisingly, continue to create paintings and sculptures with the nude as the central focus of attention, although there are references to the older 'classical' nudes by Giorgione, Géricault, Courbet, Gwen John, Goya and Manet.
In total, the work of over a hundred artists is discussed and illustrated in the book. It is a fairly comprehensive review of contemporary nude art in all genres and at all levels. The book includes studies of the work of famous artists such as Lucian Freud, Antony Gormley, Ron Mueck, Gilbert and George; the moderately famous such as Jenny Saville, Marc Quinn, Spencer Tunick and the less well-known such as John Currin, Alice Neel, Ellen Altfest etc. Later chapters explore the nude in photography, body art, performance art, pop-art and hyperrealism. The text-colour photograph ratio is about 60% illustration to 40% text which seems about right. The book's size, 9 x 11.5 inches (225 x 285 mm), is large enough to display the illustrations in sufficient detail. Thames and Hudson usually produce fine quality art books... this is another.
The title, 'The Naked Nude', indicates the book's aim: to strip the concept of the nude in art from all its remaining clothing of decency and propriety, decorum and acceptability. Borzello attempts to present the nude as fact, not fiction. This is a book about the nude in all its glorious human imperfection.
Contemporary art has sometimes been criticized for too often habitually attempting to shock that it no longer shocks, but instead frequently wearies the spectator. Does this book set out to intentionally shock... I don't think so? Frances Borzello is an art historian who has a doctorate from University College, London and this book on the nude is a serious study, although with an element of playfulness. Contemporary art usually has a strong element of humour in it, often the artist laughing at the expense of the viewer, consequently this book will, from time to time, bring a smile to your face.