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I stripped for Spencer - making art in Munich

The Local · 25 Jun 2012, 11:38

Published: 25 Jun 2012 11:38 GMT+02:00

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What was I doing, standing shivering and stark naked – except for a shimmering layer of gold body paint – in the middle of Munich at six on Saturday morning? I wasn’t even drunk.

Tunick is known and notorious for his huge installations of nudes in urban and natural locations around the world.

The naked people makes his art an instant headline-grabber – but the display of normal human flesh with no hint of sex, simply using bodies to make art, quickly turns voyeurism into contemplation.

Within the naked masses, flaunters, voyeurs and anybody jiggling their bits are categorically unwelcome – as the organisers make clear from the start.

This is not only to protect participants, but also because Tunick seeks “to continue the tradition of celebrating the nude and treating the true forms of real humans no differently than the classical, Vitruvian ideal,” he told me, citing the ancient architect who developed theories of proportionality.

Not looking forward to getting naked

Meeting in the chill of three in the morning, I joined a 500-metre-long queue of people aged 18 to 80 awaiting entry to an ad-hoc garrison to get ready to take their places on the floodlit Marstallplatz.

Handed a small tub of red or gold body paint, we were then directed into a compound according to colour. I got gold and shuffled forward to get a welcome cup of tea provided from the sidelines. Despite it being the beginning of summer, it was still only about 10 degrees, and I wasn’t much looking forward to getting naked.

But it could have been worse. A previous Tunick installation took place on the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. While mingling in the crowd I came across someone who was there. What was that like? “Cold,” he said. But nudity was nothing new to him. As a naturist who often does things in the buff, he had once gone on a nude cycle through London with his mother-in-law. He showed me a picture.

Then the games commenced. Tunick addressed the red group, telling them to “listen up” as they received precise instructions about how to apply their body paint and where they were going.

He became fierce when it emerged that a couple of people were drunk – strictly not allowed. “I’m serious!” he bellowed into his megaphone - and they were ejected.

As the encroaching dawn softened the darkness, the magic began. The crowd opposite us transformed from a gathering of assorted people to a squirming throng of bare bodies united in their nudity.

Suddenly everything had changed

There was a moment when everything was the way it was, then it wasn't, and then it was red. Half the square was filled with naked red devils, their teeth gleaming white, their eyes lurid, almost demonic in the half-light. It was as if a wrapper had been peeled off the known universe to reveal an alternative reality – an extraordinary experience.

On a signal from Tunick’s assistants, the red horde trooped, dancing and cheering, out of the square toward Odeonsplatz for the first photos. We soon-to-be-goldies applauded them on their way. A long wait, while the dawn snuck out of the darkness; and then it was our turn.

Again, the masses around me went from an everyday crowd to a swarm of flesh rapidly discarding final bits of underwear. It was my turn. I stripped, stirred my gold body paint with my finger and slapped a handful on my stomach.

The paint was cold and gloopy, but I was infected by the heady sense of abandon that had filled the square. It felt like Glastonbury, like toddlers in crèche going wild with the finger paint. We laughed and joked and helped each other get the paint on our backs. Once the paint was on I didn’t feel so naked.

Within minutes, the square was filled with gold statues.

Click here for pictures of the show

Tunick has previously described these projects as “euphoric”. I felt a sense of freedom and joy which increased as the hours wore on. We weren’t just watching an event; we were the event.

His work has inspired a wave of followers. A woman had come from Israel to take part, a message on Tunick’s Facebook page announced. His assistant Lauren Russell said there was an 80-year-old American man who had been to all the installations over the last 20 years, and had pictures of them all on the walls of his home.

A shoot in Mexico City included 18,000 participants – but they still had to turn people away. “My recent installation in the Dead Sea of Israel is something I am particularly proud of,” Tunick said. “Whoever thought there could be naked people en masse, making art in the Middle East?”

Trams passed, jangling their bells at us as we encircled the monument in front of the Nationaltheater. One driver simply stopped her tram to take a picture; we cheered.

Tunick yelled from atop a towering cherry picker: “There’s always a car! Get that car out of here!” An assistant shooed away a taxi.

Story continues below…

The red mob joined us in ringing the statue and for a photo on the steps of the opera house.

Gold statues with pulses

I was one of a group of women invited into the Nationaltheater to pose for pictures on the marble staircase, and inside the sumptuous Königssaal. Something resembling a climbing frame had been set up in the middle, and we – gold statues with pulses – draped ourselves around it.

The Bavarian State Opera had commissioned Tunick to create a photographic installation inspired by their new production of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, directed by Andreas Kriegenburg.

The Opera will show a film of the making of the installation in July and will exhibit the photographs in January, when they bring back the Ring for the Wagner bicentennial in 2013.

These images juxtaposing the ordinary and the unexpected jolt the viewer out of the sameness of everyday life.

“Imagine the power of a live photographic image with thousands of real, human bodies,” said Tunick.

The beauty and the buzz were well worth a few hours of braving the elements with your kit off, even if I’m still finding little bits of gold paint in odd places.

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Your comments about this article

13:02 June 25, 2012 by strahlungsamt
art, art, art, art, art,...yawn!
15:07 June 25, 2012 by raandy
A good example of you can call anything art, if you disagree you are either ignorant,, non perceptive or both.

I think I am both.
16:33 June 25, 2012 by strahlungsamt
As long as it's ugly people, it's art.

Personally, I'd like to see more pretty girls but then it would no longer be art. It would be pornography.
17:32 June 25, 2012 by Servus Brezn
You know, as a female Asian Australian, I would not have been caught dead doing this years ago when I first moved to Munich. I have only gone nude once in the FKK section at a lake and I never go into mixed saunas because I do not want to be seen nude in a crowd of complete strangers. So why did I take part on Saturday in freezing conditions in a public place with almost 1700 strangers? I did it because two other friends decided to go, because we were going to wear body paint and above all, because this was a once in a lifetime experience which I did not want to pass up. And I can honestly say, it was the most amazing, surreal and exhilirating experience anyone could imagine. Sure, the appreciation and definition of art, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, but this event was no push-over. It was an extremely well-organised logistic triumph and the artist, Spencer Tunick, is a man of vision. There wasn't a single element of indecency/pornography/eroticism surrounding the event, despite the fact that many of the particpants were probably attractive - to be perfectly honest, I never really bothered to take much note of what the others looked like. We were all too busy doing our bit in the name of art.
20:22 June 25, 2012 by raandy
Servus Brezn thanks for that post, you being a participant and your explanation makes me rethink my post.
20:28 June 25, 2012 by Whipmanager
I wonder what it is all for anyways. I wish the Local would have given us a pic of the final view of what was supposed to be shown. I guess it could be a copyright thing, but it is advertisement for the artist.

Ms. Female Australian, I certainly would have been looking at the Beauty of the persons, and wearing a loin cloth...LOL. I guess women and straight guys have a different way of looking at things....so, where were you in the foto so we can see what you lookk like?
20:37 June 25, 2012 by Servus Brezn
I'm the gold one...
00:19 June 26, 2012 by DOZ
Naaaaaaaasty. That's 10 characters.
23:39 June 29, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
not even remotely artistic. Just unusual and attention seeking crapology.
19:20 June 30, 2012 by ChristopherBlackwell
I am always amused at our reactions to nudity. Remember we are born naked and we have no fur, so being naked is the natural while putting on clothes is the artificial. The ordinary human body is not ugly nor obscene.

When I went to my first Pagan gathering they were private so often they were clothing optional, men,women,boys, girls, little children. People were in, and out of clothing as they felt like and no one was bother about it. Most people were clothed most of the time as one would expect in our body shy society. Now such gatherings are public, and that is not possible.

Clothing is for two purposes, comfort and decoration, to show status. I just wish most of it was designed to be comfortable. Off the rack clothing rarely fits anyone well. How wonderful if everyone could having clothing designed for their particular body, that fit well and was comfortable. The worse designed clothing is often what we make women wear.
20:48 July 2, 2012 by morel
Someone ought to give Mr Tunick a bucket of soapy water and get him to scrub off the red paint left on the statues by his models' bottoms.
12:16 July 10, 2012 by soros
They should do this nude thing on a Friday in front of a European mosque. And take pictures of the ensuing bloodbath...
09:38 July 11, 2012 by wenddiver
Got some spare time on your hands on your side of the pound I see. Glad to see they have broken that whole mindless following the authority figure thing, by listening to the instructions of the little man with the bull horn as a mass of individualists, who do as instructed.
06:27 July 18, 2012 by Petite Keyboardist
It is sad to see people so morally corrupt.
19:44 July 30, 2012 by friedenstempel
Nudity is for perverts.
16:32 July 31, 2012 by wenddiver
The North Koreans are doing the same group stuff, wiith uniforms for their leader.
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