Home' The Canberra Times : See Canberra Spring 2015 Contents See Canberra | SPRING 2015 45
Words by JOSEPHINE HUYNH
ere s something quite confronting about
examining a portrait -- it can stare right into
your soul, provide a glimpse into a moment of
history, you can feel closer to the person and
see them stripped raw. You can experience all
this and more at Bare: Degrees of Undress, now
showing at the National Portrait Gallery.
e exhibition celebrates the candid,
contrived, natural, sexy, ironic, beautiful and
fascinating examples of Australian portraiture
that show a bit of skin, bringing together
portraits from the gallery s permanent
collection that include elements of nakedness.
Exhibition curator Penny Grist explains that
each portrait evokes di erent and complex
feelings and reactions depending on gender and
era, but one thing that is consistent across the
entire collection is that audiences experience an
almost instinctive reaction of empathy.
"It s a strange and ever-shi ing dynamic.
You imagine yourself in that degree of undress
before you start thinking about who the subject
is," she says.
" e show has been organised around those
stories of humanity and identity because of
their exposure and the parts of them that are
For the rst time the gallery s collection,
which was established in May 1998, has
grown large enough to showcase a major
contemporary exhibition around a particular
"What sparked the idea for having a show
around degrees of bareness was the parallels
and patterns in our nude works that emerged,"
" e patterns ended up being, with very few
exceptions, Australia s greatest sportspeople and
our foremost creative achievers."
Fun and forthright, Bare allows people to see
these works, some of which are quite familiar
and some completely new, in a completely
di erent way than they are used to seeing them
in the gallery.
"Usually when they are displayed in the
permanent collection there is extensive
biographical information with the works but
that s not going to be the case here. With Bare,
you know who the people are but in terms of
the interpretations it s really going to be around
how or what you learn about a person through
their degree of undress," Grist says.
"From a curatorial perspective, looking at
the visual parallels across the works you see
patterns in terms of what bareness symbolises
to us in our society and culture --- so the ideas
of freedom, liberation, intimacy and physical
prowess emerged really clearly."
Interestingly, the carefully named exhibition
features very few completely naked portraits.
"Bareness is a choice of clothing and what
it ends up saying is dependent on all of those
things in society that we ve coded into the idea
of bareness," Grist says.
"It s intriguing to explore the subtle but
crucial di erences between the naked and the
nude, being dressed or undressed and seeing
someone clothed or unclothed.
"It makes you think of this idea of bareness
being a fundamentally private thing in our
lives combined with portraiture which is a very
e portraits of Megan Gale and Michael
Hutchence really demonstrate Bare's
diametrically opposed ideas of bareness
representing either vulnerability or con dence.
"I think Megan Gale looks extremely
con dent and has a great presence, her degree
of bareness is very natural to her as a model,
whereas Michael Hutchence looks extremely
vulnerable and exposed, and that s why that s
such an incredibly powerful image," Grist says.
"In some of the other portraits both of those
ideas exist simultaneously and you re not
actually quite sure if they re really con dent
or in fact rendering themselves vulnerable -- it
makes for a fascinating exercise."
Bare: Degrees of Undress
Where: The National Portrait
When: Until November 15
Check it out
THE NAKED TRUTH
It makes you think of
this idea of bareness
being a fundamentally
private thing in our
lives combined with
portraiture which is a very
From le : Michael Hutchence, 1997, by Polly Borland; Megan Gale, 2002, by Ellen Dahl; and Untitled #21/09 (a er Ricci, 1700; featuring Matthew Mitcham), 2009, by Ross Watson. All from National Portrait
Gallery, Canberra collection.
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