Why this art exhibition will have an equal split of male and female nudes

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Moya Crockett
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In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the art world is grappling with how it presents women. 

The Royal Academy in London is one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, featuring works by artists from JMW Turner to Tracey Emin. Now, the gallery has announced that an upcoming exhibition of Renaissance art will feature an equal split of male and female nudes for the first time.

The Renaissance Nude exhibition is due to open at the Royal Academy in March 2019, and will include around 85 works that explore how the ideal nude changed in Europe between 1400 and 1530.

The Telegraph reports that the Royal Academy has introduced a “makeshift gender quota” to its exhibitions as a response to #MeToo. The Renaissance Nude exhibition is expected to feature almost as many paintings, sculptures and drawings of male nudes as female nudes, by artists including Titian, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Per Rumberg, a curator at the Royal Academy, said that the team behind the exhibition had been “very keen in the beginning to have an equal balance of men and women”.

The exhibition has been in the works for three years. However, the gallery’s director, Tim Marlow, said that the connotations of an exhibition of nudes had changed in the “cultural climate” of 2018.

John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs was temporarily removed from display at Manchester Art Gallery 

The #MeToo movement has sent reverberations around the art world, as it has around almost every industry on the planet. In January, Manchester Art Gallery sparked controversy when it temporarily removed John William Waterhouse’s famous painting Hylas and the Nymphs from its walls, in a bid to start conversations about how women are presented in art.

The pre-Raphaelite painting, which showed seven naked women trying to lure a man into a lily pond, had previously hung in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty – which also featured many 19th century paintings showing nude women.

Other galleries and museums have run into problems when staging exhibitions of work by men accused of sexual misconduct. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Canada faced such difficulties earlier this year, when a woman came forward to say that the late Indian photographer Raghubir Singh had sexually assaulted her. A retrospective of Singh’s work was scheduled to be shown at the ROM between July and October.

In response to the woman’s allegations against Singh, the ROM decided to go ahead with the exhibition of his work. However, the museum also created a new exhibition to run at the same time, titled #MeToo & The Arts.

“#MeToo & the Arts seeks to encourage a larger conversation about how museums, and the public, are engaging with art within the context of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements,” the museum said. 

Photographer Cindy Sherman was among those to sign an open letter condemning sexual harassment in the art world

The #MeToo movement has not just affected how people think about the work that hangs on the walls of galleries and museums; it has also seen several prominent art dealers, collectors, gallerists and artists be accused of sexual misconduct. In October 2017, the campaign group We Are Not Surprised published an open letter, in which they challenged the culture of silence about sexual harassment in the art world.

“We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favours,” read the letter, which was signed by thousands of people including artists Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman.

“We are not surprised when gallerists romanticise, minimise and hide sexually abusive behaviour by artists they represent.

“We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying.

“Abuse of power comes as no surprise.”

Images: Getty Images 


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.