an essay, in progress…
“We’re naked and fearless! We’re naked and fearless!” sang the two young women as they skipped past me.
They, and I, were taking up positions for the first of three mass nude installations the noted artist Spencer Tunick was busy assembling on Cleveland’s waterfront early the morning of June 26.
All 2,750 of us had just dropped trou at the announcement by Tunick’s producer that it was “time to get our kit off”. Everyone disrobed without hesitation; there were a few whoops, a buzz of voices and a lot of happy laughter as we exposed our skin to the 57ºF temperature.
The participants were a happy mix of ages and body types. I noticed one gentleman in a wheelchair, and another with a prosthetic leg. An elderly woman attended with her daughter. Any skin color other than white was underrepresented – I guessed there were about two dozen black folks taking part. The crowd seemed pretty balanced gender-wise, and in fact was reported later to be over 50% female. Average age skewed younger; there were a few old folks, a number of middle-aged men (like me), and a chunk of thirty- and forty-somethings. Some were tanned, most were pale, and one hell of a lot of men had tattoos on their backs (I expected this more of young women).
Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art had invited Tunick to create an installation during his showing at the museum last January. The event was lightly publicized by the media; I heard about it on NPR and then saw a small item in the Plain Dealer. It was enough to generate hundreds of applicants, and Tunick was not able to find any indoor space large to accomodate even 500 people. It was decided to schedule the event for June.
By the Big Day, over 5,000 people had registered. Tunick expects a 50% turnout, and that’s about what he got – still enough to edge Montreal’s 2,500 for bragging rights to the largest North American installation. I hope more U.S. cities summon up the nerve and the energy to make similar events happen, because make no mistake, it took a lot of work and donations by MOCA staff and patrons to get the necessary permission from the Port Authority and to get equipment and crowd control set up.