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Bleached Whales

May 16, 2008

Last weekend, American conceptual artist Spencer Tunick photographed around 1,800 naked people lying prostrate on the bleachers at the Viennese soccer stadium that will host the Euro 2008 soccer final on June 29.

Tunick's body of work comprises many projects involving large numbers of naked people posing together in unlikely surroundings. One of the artist's latest endeavors took place on a glacier in Switzerland, where 600 people stripped off in temperatures of about 10 Celsius (50 F) last August. His biggest project to date involved 18,000 people in Mexico City last year. In the coming months, he'll be shooting hundreds of nudes in Ireland. So much for Catholic schoolgirl modesty.

It's remarkable that so many people flock to participate in Tunick's massive projects when you consider the uncompromising demands he makes on his "models." Yet people must find the process of stripping off en masse so wonderfully life-affirming, communal-spirited and plain bonkers that they leap in. I know I would if the artist ever came to the Bay Area to undertake a project. Seems like that won't be happening anytime soon though. According to a Reuters story about the artist's soccer stadium session the other day, Tunick has trouble persuading U.S. authorities to go along with his plans for photo shoots (Down with Puritans.) As a result, he works much more frequently in other parts of the world than over here. Though, it seems to me that San Francisco would be them perfect place for a Tunick installation. The city is renowned for its nude bicycle brigade and naked fun run competitors. It would be great to see him bring thousands of people together for a shoot on Golden Gate Bridge.

Until that day arrives, I guess I'll have to make do with his photographs. There's something so arresting about the end-product of Tunick's work -- all those frail, flushed bodies facing off against the elements; against something much bigger than themselves.

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