Art Inspection

Getting Naked (And Wet) With Spencer Tunick

“Let yourself in and hang out in the living room until I get there,” says Krissy, Spencer Tunick’s wife, muse, and manager, over the phone. Peeking through the windows, one imagines walking into a house filled with naked people.

“Spencer should turn up soon. He left Brooklyn an hour ago, but I have no way of getting a hold of him. It’s been such a crazy day.”

On the front door

“Or grab a coffee in town,” she adds before hanging up.

The town she is referring to is Suffern, NY—35 miles west of New York City—on the border of New Jersey. The couple has called Suffern home for ten years, since relocating from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

There are no actual naked people later in the living room, but prints of Tunick’s iconic human installations are ever-present. While waiting for Spencer to arrive, Krissy tells the story of meeting him on the street in East Village. He’d given her his famous card “Pose Nude for Spencer Tunick,” which she pocketed away. The couple would sit for dinner in the following weeks. Within a year, they were on the road shooting “Naked States,” a countrywide project. It’s one of those great East Village stories that are nearly impossible today.

Wisconsin, 1997

Spencer arrives, damp from the mid-October drizzle, clearly exhausted from his long and unexpected morning.

“Did you catch him?” Krissy asks.

“No, but I kind of hoped that as he ran away that an article of clothing would fall off of him every hundred yards, and then he’d only have my iPhone. He’d be so mortified that he’d just put it down and run away.”

Tunick’s career began in the early ’90s, and by ‘99 he’d been arrested five times and filed a Federal Civil Rights Law Suit against the city of New York that he won. The ruling technically allowed Tunick to organize his work in the street, but his first request for a shooting permit was denied. Eventually Tunick took his work to Europe to more freely do his installations, and today he estimates that he’s now shot over 100,000 people.

Tunick in his studio

Entering Tunick’s studio is like walking into your hip uncle’s garage. It’s like a playground for art kids, with cameras, film, and prints everywhere — including a few of the pieces for his upcoming show at RuArts, one of Moscow’s leading contemporary arts galleries, in December. Along with touring his home and studio, Spencer invited Standard Culture to Dugall on 23rd Street to check out the print tests for the show.

Checking prints at Dugall

Standard Culture: How would you describe human bodies in your work?
Spencer Tunick: Incredibly powerful and electric entities and forms that have personality, soul, and energy. They’re an artist medium that is very much alive, and as smart and smarter than me. As a whole, they become very edgy in public spaces and go beyond working with non-living medium.

What about the collective pheromones of the group?
I can change the heat of the air with these people. They change the environment. They change the way they think about their connection to earth, social norms, and government. Something phenomenological is happening, as well as artwork being made.

Are these bodies vulnerable?
In general the body is vulnerable, but these are some of the bravest people in the city. As individuals, these people are incredible human beings who want to be a part of contemporary art and go against the grain of society. The installation becomes a catalyst to their preconceived idea of what they’re meant to do. It’s activism, through art. Social sculpture.

Is there a purifying sensation, or baptism, after finishing a shoot?
It’s certainly purifying for me and I think the participants. For a moment it desexualizes the body. The act of posing—just thinking about posing—is a charged idea. The experience becomes more sensual during reflection. The idea of it [human installation] crosses between seeing the body as an organic entity to recognizing abstract forms.

Do you consider yourself a master of body language at this point?
When people are naked or before they’re naked?

I can tell when a clothed person wants to be naked, and is looking for an excuse. I can tell who wants to participate. I have a sense of an energy coming from people, and what they’re saying or not saying also indicates if they want to participate.

Any other indicators?
It used to be in the ‘90s that anyone who wore silver jewelry and didn’t wear pearls wanted to pose. Those who wore gold didn’t.

What about the 2000s?
Those with tattoos would definitely pose. Anyone with a piercing would pose hanging upside down from a wire.

And now?
Now, everything has changed. More people want to pose.

Sounds like a win for Spencer Tunick.
The more naked people the better!

Photographs by Ally Lindsay.

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