FAIR dues to Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery and congrats to its director, Mary McCarthy, who’s from Whitehall, near Skibbereen. She’s responsible for one of the most controversial and outstanding art exhibitions the city has ever seen.
Entitled ‘Naked Truth: The Nude in Irish Art,’ it features works by Francis Bacon, Mainie Jellett, Robert Ballagh, Amanda Coogan, James Barry, Dragana Jurisic, Brian Maguire and others. According to the blurb, the exhibition ‘asserts the existence of a rich history of the depiction of the naked and the unclothed body in the work of Irish artists.’
And, it continues: the exhibition ‘focusses on interconnecting themes of political allegory, domestic intimacy, gender politics, censorship, sexuality and display.’
But not all Leesiders were enthralled. ‘Big yawn!’ said the sophisticated aesthete sprawled on a sofa in the Cork Arms the other night. ‘Give us something new, please. Irish nudes are so … two-a-penny and so passé!’
And that’s exactly what Ms McCarthy did and she did it well. With the sophistication of a San Francisco art expert in contemporary art and programming (Claudia Schmuckli?) and the marketing skills of a reincarnated Salvador Dali, she got the brilliant idea of inviting real, goose-pimpled nudists to view the exhibition.
Place of nudity?
Yes! Tours through the dignified and imposing rooms of the Crawford, to be undertaken (select groups, of course) by people totally au naturel, starkers, in the altogether or, as they crudely say in Cork, ‘bollock-naked’! It was a brilliant idea!
Already invited is the organisation ‘Cork Clothes-Free’ which is not a free clothing society, but a very respectable nudist group that has been meeting regularly since 2014 for in-the-nip swimming trips, house parties, beach and garden parties.
According to the group, the Crawford Art Gallery provides members with a ‘unique and wonderful opportunity to view the subject of nudes from a place of nudity.’
Perhaps something got lost in translation but one wonders what famous alumni such as Daniel Maclise, John Hogan, James Barry, Somhairle Mac Cana, Seamus Murphy, Maud Cotter, etc would make of such a description of Cork’s internationally famous school of art?
And, no, we’re not going to go out of our way to make the Crawford the butt (oops, sorry about that!) of jokes about nudity, other than that the nudists who avail of the tour have the opportunity to air their differences (geddit?) on matters pertaining to art, of course. (That’s not funny – Ed).
Yet, after inadvertently witnessing the depressing sight of a collection of nudists participating in The Naked Bike Ride through Cork city, this scribe came to the conclusion that those in an advanced state of nudity are not the kind of people you really want to see naked. Definitely not!
Which reminds us of the story about the girl who was afraid of the dark until she saw her boyfriend naked and now she’s afraid of the light! (That’s a terrible joke. You’re fired – Ed)
Okay, no more jokes; not even the one by Benny Hill, who famously said: ‘I’m not against naked girls – not as often as I’d like to be.’ (That’s it. You’re definitely fired – Ed).
Oh dear! Apologies all round, even if we find the prospect of real naked people of different shapes and sizes – flabby stomachs and dangling body parts – peering intently at an imaginative and artistic representation of the nude to be somewhat incongruous and even amusing.
The difference, of course, between the artistic representation of nudity and Corkonians who strip off as a hobby is that artists since the dawn of civilisation have used the nude to express ideals of male and female beauty, human energy, and complex emotions, such as pity, sympathy, tenderness and sorrow.
But those who practise nudism do so for reasons of mental health, personal confidence, body acceptance and a sense of freedom – and, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, such motives have little in common with the divine creativeness inherent in great art.
The nude always has had a central role in art, particularly religious art. For example, Michelangelo’s David or his nudes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Then there’s Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus.’ Or, the Canova Casts on display in Crawford, which while not ‘religious’ are magnificent copies of the masterpieces from the Vatican Collection. And don’t forget Picasso’s nudes.
Oneness with nature
Problem is, although Ms McCarthy and curators deserve great credit for mounting such an impressive show, there’s something bizarre in the assertion that the involvement of the spectator with the work of art can be enhanced by viewing the exhibition in a state of stark-nakedness (exceptions made for wedding rings and false teeth).
On the other hand, neither is it easy to understand how spectator-nudity at a serious art exhibition can contribute to the core values of naturist clubs which, as far as we know, relate to ‘the heady sense of freedom, innocence and oneness with nature.’
That sort of emancipation is best obtained, one could argue, not in an art gallery but on a remote beach where people are facilitated in their search for enlightenment by not wearing swimming togs.
Speaking of which, the shores of Roaring Water Bay, beyond Lough Hyne, have many deserted beaches that are just perfect for skinny-dipping. The eastern and western sides of Clonakilty Bay also are very suitable for nudism, such as Duneen, Dunny Cove, Sands Cove, Long Strand, Castlefreke.
And let’s not forget the ominous sounding Prison Cove, not too far from Glandore! On the other hand, perhaps it’s best to keep away from there!
Stop the lights!
And now for something completely different: the much lamented demise of Bunny Carr.
His TV quiz show, Quicksilver, has long been part of Irish lore, particularly the programme that was broadcast from the Savoy, Cork, back in the year dot. Although he offered dreadful prizes that started at one old penny, he was never short of contestants.
Remember his question about ‘Who or what was ayatollah?’
The contestant answered: ‘a céilí band.’
Or ‘What was Gandhi’s first name?;
Contestant: ‘Goosey, Goosey.’
Or ‘What’s the capital of France?’
Or ‘The Four Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and … ’
Contestant (after a long pause): ‘Joe.’
Or ‘What star do travellers follow?’
Contestant: ‘Joe Dolan.’
Or ‘The leader of an orchestra plays which musical instrument?’
Contestant: ‘The baton.’
Or ‘The Italian word for motorway is…..’
Ah yes! Those were the days!