(Published in The Malay Mail on 26 November 2013)
Roman god Mercury wearing his wing-tipped helmet and a come-hither created by Pierre et Gilles (aka Mr Tuesday) at Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Male nudity. There I’ve said it. Have you ever wondered why us ladies don’t talk about it more openly?
It’s not that we don’t see naked men, husbands, boyfriends, strippers at hen parties, but we’ve a long way to go before we enjoy Mr Tuesday over our morning cuppa. Female nudity, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game: from topless “Page 3” girls in Britain’s best-selling tabloid The Sun, the toast of many a kitchen table, in-your-face top shelf magazines to ubiquitous gentleman’s clubs.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard there was a little something happening for the ladies here in Paris — an exhibition where men, wait for it, “bare it all”. Musée d’Orsay’s show “Masculine/Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day” has been attracting record numbers since it opened in late September. It has been billed the “hottest event” this autumn by the women’s magazine Marie Claire, naturally, and much to the consternation of French broadsheets who’ve been getting their proverbial knickers in a twist over whether this show has any historical merit, or if it is nothing but a tasteless exercise. Who cares? The museum has pulled the oldest trick in the book, sex sells, and the male form is one aspect that has rarely been explored in public.
Waiting for my girlfriend to pitch up for our “viewing”, the promotional book I’d picked up fell open to a vividly coloured photo of three racially diverse football players lined up on a pitch in nothing but their socks and boots. Those hairy full-frontals (titled “Vive la France” by Pierre et Gilles, gay artists famed for their cult art) shocked me in a way I hadn’t expected. I quickly snapped the tome shut and glanced furtively around the bookstand to see if anyone had been watching.
In the safety of company, I soon lost this naughty schoolgirl mentality and relaxed to enjoy the rooms packed with wall-to-wall naked torsos, muscular bums and appendages of all different shapes, sizes and shades. There were oil paintings of nude men hunting, bathing, cozying up to females, surrounded by cherubic angels in religious depictions and a towering bronze statue of an athletic male form portraying the “Aryan race” sought by the Nazi regime. I couldn’t help but notice that every naked male was, without exception, aesthetically pleasing, not a beer belly, love handle or saggy bottom in sight.
“I don’t get that in my bedroom…” my friend quipped loudly as we admired a muscular Mercury wearing his wing-tipped helmet and a come-hither look. Nicely put. And, an observation that would have been made behind a fan by a blushing lady a couple of centuries earlier.
There were faces I recognized like that of rapper Eminem, beaming at the camera while holding a firework in his hands to hide his you know what, and an arty black and white of fashion guru Yves Saint Laurent. Both sharing a corner spot, we waited until the predominately male onlookers and older couples, dispersed for us to get a close up.
We left the show for lunch in a French bistro around the corner to quietly digest our unusual morning — as voyeurs of hundreds of nude males —before rushing back for the school run feeling strangely empowered by the whole experience; a rekindling of the feminist in me?
It’s the first show of this kind I have ever seen, but perhaps not the last. I’ve read that a number of other museums in Europe plan to jump on the naked male bandwagon. Although the Leopold Museum in Vienna gets the credit for taking the initial plunge last year: its highly successful male nude exhibition was promoted around the country through advertisements of a reclining male known as “Mr. Big 3”.
Will “Masculine/Masculine hit the road for Asia? Perhaps. Until then, I’ve included a little something from Paris, your Mr Tuesday ladies. Enjoy him enjoy over your morning cuppa; he’s the perfect way to start your day.