Spencer Tunick’s Naked Bodies Art – a Challenge for Puritanical Society?

Spencer Tunick (born January 1, 1967) is an American photographer best known for organizing large-scale nude shoots. Since 1994, he has photographed over 75 human installations around the world.

In 1992, Tunick began documenting live nudes in public locations in New York through video and photographs. His early works from this period focus more on a single nude individual or small groups of nudes. Tunick cites 1994, when he posed and photographed 28 nude people in front of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan, as a turning point in his career; “It all started there, moving my work from just photography into installation and performance photography,” he says. Since then, he has organized and photographed over 65 temporary site-related installations in the United States and abroad.

Tunick’s philosophy is that “individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one’s views of nudity and privacy.”

Sometimes, after gathering his subjects together, Tunick grades them by gender, long hair, age or other characteristics. Registration for modeling on his website includes questions about skin tone. A color chart shows seven boxes ranging from stark white to baby-powder pink and dark chocolate. In his work, he plays off different flesh tones or groups people of the same color. Tunick is also interested in the juxtaposition between the organic and the mechanical, and often chooses famous buildings or unusual structures as his backdrop. Read more…


Spencer Tunick stages scenes in which the battle of nature against culture is played out against various backdrops, from civic center to desert sandstorm, man and woman are returned to a preindustrial, pre-everything state of existence.  Tunick has traveled the globe to create these still and video images of multiple nude figures in public settings. Organizing groups from a handful of participants to tens of thousands, all volunteers, is often logistically daunting; the subsequent images transcend ordinary categories and meld sculpture and performance in a new genre.

Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick’s body of work explores and expands the social, political and legal issues surrounding art in the public sphere. Since 1992, Tunick has been arrested five times while attempting to work outdoors in New York City. Soon after his fifth arrest in Times Square in 1999, determined to create his work on the streets of New York, the artist filed a Federal Civil Rights Law Suit against the city to protect himself and his participants from future arrests. In May 2000, the Second U.S. District Court sided with Tunick, recognizing that his work was protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On June 3 of the same year, in response to the city’s final appeal made to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the court at large, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in favor of Tunick by remanding the case, allowing the lower court decision to stand and the artist to freely organize his work on New York City streets. Four months later, Tunick applied for his first New York City permit after winning the case, and was denied.

In order to make his work without the threat of arrest the artist took his work abroad. He has not undertaken a group installation on the streets of New York in over fifteen years.

Tunick’s most notable works have been commissioned by Art Basel, Switzerland (1999), Institut Cultura, Barcelona (2003), XXV Biennial de Sao Paulo, Brazil (2002), The Saatchi Gallery(2003), MOCA Cleveland (2004), Vienna Kunsthalle (2008), MAMBO Museum of Modern Art, Bogota (2016), among others.


Although Spencer Tunick’s pictures of naked people in public places will immediately remind many viewers of such period-piece formulations as “free love” and “Woodstock Nation,” their message is neither sexual nor communitarian. Indeed, once the 1960’s gestalt dissipates, which happens rather quickly, the tightly-wound, esthetically conscious, and yet otherwise disjunctive spirit of the late 1990’s seems to assert itself in no uncertain terms.

Spencer Tunick is shooting in Schermerhorn village, The Netherlands

First of all, Tunick’s work reveals itself at once to be a form of landscape and a very specific mapping strategy– a way of establishing an imprint of time on place. These photographs demonstrably happened, and curiosity concerning process and logistics becomes an integral part of viewer response. Tunick’s epic project, Naked States, comprises nude mise sen scene  shot in each of the 50 American sub-sovereignties. Landscapes and locations are auditioned, too: The artist’s choice of motifs is as important as his choice of models. One prim-looking naked white woman kneeling in front of a pristine, though already nostalgically resonant late-modernists sky-scraper is  Indiana today. A solitary, rubicond man standing naked under a Phillips 66 sign admist tall stalks of corn is the hunky, hapless essence of rural Iowa now. Tunick’s locales and anatomies sometimes make for strange formal synchronies. Note, for instance, the labyrinthian overlaps of reclining nudes beneath the darkened dome and Deco statuary of the Griffith Park Observatory in California– a gently swaying, eurythmic composition that evokes Ferdinand Holder’s wacky, animistic Symbolist allegories of birth and death.

About seven-hundred unclothed men and women are positioned in the Stadsschouwburg theatre in the old city center of Bruges, Belgium, Saturday, May 7, 2005, as they are photographed by U.S. artist Spencer Tunick as part of a human art installation. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)About seven-hundred unclothed men and women are positioned in the Stadsschouwburg theatre in the old city center of Bruges, Belgium, Saturday, May 7, 2005, as they are photographed by U.S. artist Spencer Tunick as part of a human art installation. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Other art-historical frissions insinuate themselves into prosaic time and space in Tunick’s productions. The Pollock-esque scatter of bodies strewn across Times Square in a shot from 1997 comments wryly on the paths of chaotic energies that have formed New York . Kneeling nudes in quasi-Buddhist postures of reverence pay hommage to the noble span of the suspension bridge directly above in Pennsylvania: This is a construction epic, a building of bodies and submersion of egoes into one selfless, Leni Riefenstahlian spectacle. It’s all there in a shot, effortlessly apt and yet often riskily assembled. Christo, Robert Smithson and Allan Kaprow are Tunick’s signal elders in the realms of Land Art and Performance. But these are also photographs for the post-Mapplethorpeian age, as “quality of life” arrests have entered the everyday urban sphere. In fact one the artist’s earliest photographs involves a Mapplethorpe model, shot nude outdoors on Wall Street.

U.S. artist Spencer Tunick walks past naked volunteers as they pose for him in front of the Sydney Opera House March 1, 2010. Organisers estimate 5,200 people posed for the early morning nude photo installation titled “Mardi Gras: The Base”. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

D.W. Griffith, too, is part of Tunick’s American century. Tunick’s photographs require courage and organization: Getting over a hundred people up, out and naked at six in the morning on Times Square would seem to demand some of the crazed, tyrannical energy of pioneering silent-epic directors. And it takes grit to keep cool when disaster strikes the set, as happened recently on the occasion of his latest attempted shoot on Times Square, when the police came to dispell his people because he lacked a permit. Police told Tunick that anyone who disrobed would be arrested. This warning, however, failed to stop the models from carrying on as planned: they stripped and lay in the street at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 47th. None of the models were arrested as threatened, but the police put Tunick and his assistant in handcuffs before a picture could be taken. To be nude in battle, nude in landscape, nude in one’s nobility, freedom and death– that is the very essence of Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical history paintings. Tunick’s photographs disclose the Ideal within the Real, for an increasingly sanitized and ever puritanical society.

-Lisa Liebmann and Brooks Adams

Spencer Tunick’s Dream of Amsterdam

Spencer Tunick website

Spencer Tunick on Alafoto Gallery

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Naked volunteers perfom for US photographer and artist Spencer Tunick (out of frame) at Los Senderos Villages in San Miguel de Allende municipality, Guanajuato State, Mexico on November 4, 2012. Tunick is in Mexico for one day to make this performance commemorating the Day of the Dead. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella
700 people naked to fight climate change
Fuissé, Burgundy, 3rd October 2010. On the initiative of Greenpeace France and world-famous artist Spencer Tunick, 700 volunteers pose nude in a human installation in a vineyard in the south of Burgundy. The impacts of climate change are already being felt all around the world. In France, they are affecting the wines and the vineyards. These installations are an intense illustration of the vulnerability of humankind and its culture to climate change.
With only 80 days left before the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, in this extremely important year for the future of the Earth, Greenpeace, Spencer Tunick and all the volunteers who participated in this unique installation hope it will help raise awareness and put pressure on leaders to act now !
Naked volunteers, painted in blue to reflect the colours found in Marine paintings in Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery, participate in US artist, Spencer Tunick’s “Sea of Hull” installation in Queen’s Gardens in Kingston upon Hull on July 9, 2016.
Over a period of 20 years, the New York based artist has created over 90 art installations in some of the most culturally significant places and landmarks around the world including the Sydney Opera House, Place des Arts in Montreal, Mexico City, Ernest Happel Stadium in Vienna and Munich in Germany.
Members of the public take part in a naked installation named “The Ring” by American artist Spencer Tunick at the Bavarian State Opera in the southern German city of Munich on June 23, 2012. AFP PHOTO
Thousands of naked people lie on the ground at Mexico City’s main Zocalo plaza during the massive naked photo session with U.S. photographer Spencer Tunick early Sunday, May 6, 2007. According to the organizers, almost 20 thousand people took off their clothes. (AP Photo/Claudio Cruz)
Naked volunteers, numbering around 1700 people, pose for U.S. artist Spencer Tunick in downtown Munich June 23, 2012. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
Nude members of the public take part in “Mardi Gras: The Base”, an art installation by artist Spencer Tunick, at the Sydney Opera House on March 1, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. More than 5000 people gathered on a cool, cloudy Sydney morning for Tunick’s first Australian installation, which follows visits to the US, Brazil, France, England and Austria. Tunick stated that the title of the work, commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, refers to the sameness of individuals, regardless of their sexual preferences. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
More than 1,000 nude Israelis pose for US art photographer Spencer Tunick’s first Middle East mass shoot on September 17, 2011 on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth which experts warn it could dry out by 2050 unless urgent steps are taken to halt its demise. For Tunick, a Jewish American who has arranged naked human bodies over prominent landscapes and landmarks ranging from a Swiss glacier to the Sydney Opera House, a nude installation is an indicator of a host country’s openness. AFP PHOTO
Aletsch Glacier/Switzerland, August 18, 2007. US-Installation artist Spencer Tunick and Greenpeace Switzerland present a living sculpture: XXX naked people symbolise the vulnerability of the glaciers under climate change.
Nude members of the public take part in “Mardi Gras: The Base”, an art installation by artist Spencer Tunick, at the Sydney Opera House on March 1, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. More than 5000 people gathered on a cool, cloudy Sydney morning for Tunick’s first Australian installation, which follows visits to the US, Brazil, France, England and Austria. Tunick stated that the title of the work, commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, refers to the sameness of individuals, regardless of their sexual preferences. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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Spencer Tunick on Alafoto Gallery

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