Naked Memory: The Spencer Tunick Experience in the Museum Space

Valentine Moreno


The American artist Spencer Tunick is internationally known for organizing and photographing massive nude gatherings in public spaces, including parks, streets, and squares. His work has generated great controversies regarding the juxtaposition of public space, nudity, and art. Tunick refers to these events as “temporary site-specific installations” (Rosenfeld, 1999). When Tunick started his artistic project in 1992, the installations were performed quickly to avoid confrontations with authority, and involved either individuals or small groups. Since 2001, however, several museums and art institutions around the world, including the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal and the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art in Newcastle, have commissioned Tunick’s installations. Most of these installations have taken place either inside the museum’s facilities or in front of their façades.  These have engaged thousands of nude volunteers, who refer to their experience of modeling as nude bodies in public space as, “meaningful, remarkable, memorable, transformative” (Young, 2005, p. 4).

The use of Spencer Tunick’s collective nude installations has transformed the museum space. Considering the public’s profound experience in participating in Tunick’s work, several examples will examine how these transformations mostly occur in the intangible realm of the nude participant’s memory of a cathartic experience within the museum space. These examples will also investigate possible transformations initiated by the museum space in Tunick’s artistic production.  The memory of the fleeting construction is also material-ized in the final art object: the photograph, which stands as the installation’s official document. Finally, the study analyses how the museum has become the institutional space where the experience provided by Spencer Tunick’s controversial work is legally authorized, in a symbiotic relationship between the artist and the museum.

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