Equality of nudity


Brit ladies and gentlemen will now have the equal opportunity to perv on Renaissance babes and hunks, thanks to the equalitarian initiative by the UK’s premier art institution:

The Royal Academy is to ensure its next exhibition of nudes has an equal gender split of naked men and women, as it navigates the post-Me Too era.

The Academy, which has just undergone a major restructure to celebrate its 250th anniversary, will have almost exact parity between paintings, sculptures and drawings of male and female nudes in its forthcoming exploration of Renaissance art.

The decision, confirmed by the gallery’s director Tim Marlow at its season launch today, marks the first time the Royal Academy has introduced a makeshift gender quota to its exhibitions as a “very interesting exercise”.

The Renaissance Nude, due to open in March 2019, will include around 85 works created from 1400 to 1530 designed to track the development of the “idea and ideal” of the nude throughout Europe.

The announcement, made as part of the Royal Academy’s 2019 season launch, follows a period of deep crisis in the arts, as television, film, theatre, music and the visual arts all re-examine their treatment of women in the wake of #metoo sex abuse revelations.

I don’t quite follow the logic here – does the spirit of #MeToo dictates that from now on half of those sexually harassed should be men? Be that as it may, I don’t have a problem with having a variety of Renaissance nudes on display, but the Royal Academy and any other institution that follows that path should accept from the outset that it will never fully satisfy the diversity and identity politics crowd. Sure, there is now an equal number of paintings of clothesless women and men, but where are the nude people of colour*, or gay, lesbian and transgender models? What about a balance between mythological or religious and real figures? Why so many aristocrats and so few peasants? (* but when you do paint them it’s “orientalism”)

All this, however, ultimately leads to this:

Galleries have long been in the sights of feminist campaigners, with critics noting a drastic lack of  number of female artists in major collections and a high proportion of nude women on the walls.

So prevalent was the issue that Tate Modern now holds the 1989 piece by the Guerilla Girls asking: “Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?”

Referring to the New York gallery, it states that less than five per cent of the work in its modern art section was by women, compared with 85 per cent of its nudes being female.

The lack of major female artists in galleries reflects the lack of major female artists. It’s not because women are less talented than men, it’s because historically the opportunities to paint, sculpt, or compose music were simply not available to women, with some minor exceptions. Yes, it was the oppressive patriarchy with its rigid gender roles, and yes, it was bad. But you can’t change the past, and you can’t pretend the past is something else than what it is – but you can certainly change the future, so instead of obsessing over the under-representation of the 18th century female landscape painters, encourage and foster female painters of tomorrow instead.