The undressed body

Bare or naked?


The body confronts us with everything we feel and experience. The undressed body for me is a physical summarization of what I long for, but for which I am fearful of at the same time. That body is the source of our deepest joys, but also our darkest traumas. Our head may forget experiences, but traces of everything we have carried since childhood remain in our bodies. Our experience of the world depends on the experience of our own body. The body mirrors our life. We are our bodies.

In 2013 the Leopold Museum in Vienna opened the ‘Nackte Männer: Von 1800 bis heute’ exhibition. More than three hundred works focused on the shifting depictions of male nudity in the visual arts from 1800 to the present day. One of the posters for the exhibition, a portrait of the French artist couple Pierre et Gilles (° 1950, ° 1953) entitled Vive la France, caused great controversy when it became widely seen all over Vienna. Three naked boys, with only football socks of red, white, and blue on their feet, adorn a statue. Any negative reactions to the poster can be traced back to the so-called inappropriateness of showing “male genitalia”. Although the poster was in some way intentionally provocative, the penis, despite it being in a flaccid state, posed a greater threat to society than expected. The exhibition turned out to be one of the most successful in the history of the museum.



Fischl, "Sleepwalker"

55 x 39 cm


Viewing art is often so much about the idea behind an image rather than the image itself – for me that is such a pity and the opposite of what the core of my artistic practice resonates with. I try not to explain my work to anyone. I just ask that people check it out and see how it makes them feel - not what it makes them see. What I do try to do is make choices about form and use various disciplines in such a way that the spectator - guided by my gentle hand - looks at the bodies, as much as possible, together with me.

Have you noticed that I hardly speak of the naked body so far? From experience, I notice that people have different ideas about my images because of this term. That is why I prefer to speak of undressed bodies in my work.

Unclothed bodies in an artistic form have, to this day, always had a relationship between two poles; are they bare, or naked? These two words tell me the difference between a body image and an idea - the difference between the body as an object of the imagination (bare), or as a subject of the imagination (naked).

The term bare derives from the Greeks. The origin of its connection to nudity lies with the undressed male Greek body; a body with a visible constitution of​ ​idealised physical proportions​,​ which was often bare due to the hot climate and regular sunshine. Nakedness, on the other hand, arised in relation to the state of feeling comfortable with being undressed, and a sincere desire to show the body. I think that this longing for exposure deviates from another source, namely modesty. ‘Naked’ indicates ideas of shame, embarrassment, reluctantly undressing, or being forced to do so. The word/term was born, and has since been related, to the modesty associated with religion.​ ​Spiritual values ​​are considered more important there than physicality. Just as the phallus is shamefully hidden among the leaves in the Bible, today you will not find fig leaves on social media, but hazy, pixelated areas of images that, depending on their size, suggest the size of the tools that are underneath them. I find it unbelievable that a ‘universal’ platform such as Instagram decides for everybody that the only way to look at unclothed bodies is in the sexual and/or dominant, subjective way. I am talking about undressed bodies. Whether they are bare or naked is beyond my control; the viewer and his idea take care of that. It is therefore not always the artist who must be accused of being too broad-minded when he presents undressed bodies. The reaction to a body in the picture often says more about the viewer themselves. Aside from the reality that a body image is influenced by different moral, ethical, aesthetic and/or intellectual systems in the viewer, to me a body is always recognizable. The performer’s body to me is a medium itself. The undressed body is the purest medium in itself; a material, a factor.




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© 2020 — Karel Tuytschaever