How does one draw a contrast between art and pornorgraphy? Art and crime? A New York artist prompted his city’s police to do just that when he had “150 people to lie naked in the middle of Times Square” (Ramirez) to pose for a photo. Spencer Tunick, aims to do one thing with his artwork – take people back “to a preindustrial, pre-everything state of existence.” (Spencertunick.com). In doing so, Tunick has upset the New York police on five different equations earning him five different arrests. His practice has also led him abroad, where foreign laws allow him to practice his art.
While some people likely see the appeal of his art, I am sure there are numerous individuals who are offended by his works. The latter are the individuals I am interested in, the ones I have questions for. I ask what about his work is so offensive? There are many other widely accepted forms of nudity that continue to thrive daily like nudity in television shows, movies or pornography. There are is nudity in other forms are art that are accepted and even praised like the naked statues and paintings found in the Vatican in Rome, Italy. What is so much more appalling about Tunick’s’ art when juxtaposed against these ancient statues? I propose that a lot of the opposition has to do with shock. When people watch certain shows or pornography, they can anticipate or expect nudity. When people visit the Vatican, they can also expect nudity. But, for example, when people visit Times Square in New York, they expect flashing lights and gleeful tourists. Not a large group of naked people. Thus, they are shocked and offended. If instead Tunick planned and advertised his events to everyone, would he get the same negative blowback? If he took away the shock value, would people instead praise his work? Likely not.
Following that, if he took away the shock factor, would it still have such an impactful artistic significance? I argue that it would not. If Tunick was willing to get arrested 5 times – there is something beyond the law that he wishes to express. Additionally, after 5 arrests and a denial of a permit to practice his art in the US “the artist took his work abroad” (Spencertunick.com). In his latest “Installment” Tunick convinced over 3000 people to paint themselves blue while naked and photograph them “at sites around the city” of Hull, England. Here, not only were Tunick’s participants naked, but they were covered in blue, adding to the surprise. The shock and unique nature of this event “was one of the most fantastic projects I’ve ever done” (Humberside). The joy the participants of this event felt goes to show that the lines between art and crime are subjective and vary between cultures. What breaks a law in one area might hold a significant amount of artistic and emotional value in another area. Tunick proves that knowing your audience is crucial in art. Especially with controversial themes and goals of upsetting the status quo.
So now my question turns to you; the readers of this article. Disregarding the law, should Tunick be allowed to practice his art in the US? Just as other individuals are allowed to practice their nude are in television, pornography or paintings?