100 nudes

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H er critics accuse her of exploiting women. Her fans praise her as a bold and daring feminist. Either way, the queues to see Vanessa Beecroft's latest work in Berlin were extremely long - hardly surprising, one suspects, given that the art on offer involved naked women. The performance was the biggest ever staged by Beecroft, a year-old New York-based conceptual artist who has been staging nude tableaux vivants since Gradually, they have attracted increasing attention, to the point where a Beecroft performance is now a major international arts event. She has sometimes dressed her naked models in high heels and garish red, yellow or platinum wigs.

At the preview of her latest show, Beecroft said that she had tried this time to keep her models as "natural" as possible. For her latest performance, entitled "VB55" and staged in Berlin's New National Gallery, the women were wearing see-through tights. What, though, was it all about? And did the show - introduced by two German professors - amount to anything more than soft porn for intellectuals? I would say it includes embarrassment, shame, violence and abuse. There is a feeling of embarrassment, no matter if the viewer is a man or a woman.

Certainly, 100 nudes is plenty about Beecroft's work that is voyeuristic. But the most interesting aspect is almost its cold and calculating cruelty: the public performance lasted for three long hours. Apart from the odd stretch and yawn, the women are instructed to remain as 100 nudes and silent as possible. They are warned not to "act sexy". Towards the end they can lie on the floor.

At the preview, attended by dozens of journalists and TV crews, several of the "girls", as Beecroft calls them, sat down exhausted. Most looked distinctly bored. For VB55, ordinary women aged 18 to 65 were chosen, rather than professional models; the artist also used more women than ever before. Their hair colours - red, yellow and black - were picked to allude to Germany's flag.

After a while you don't even notice. The problem is that nobody told us how to look," one year-old volunteer, Nina Petereit, grumbled afterwards.

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I didn't find it very structured. Prior to being sent out to stand naked before the public, the women were rubbed in almond oil, the rather bizarre result being to give them shiny breasts. There are references to paintings, images, movies and texts. Not everyone shares her high opinion of her work, however. One critic said that there was nothing wrong with women taking all their clothes off, but that in Beecroft's case the result was "trivial", "cliched" and "unchallenging". Others, though, detect hidden influences from classical painting - Rembrandt, Holbein, Della Francesca, have all been mentioned - as well 100 nudes Renaissance sculpture and European cinema.

Each of her shows is exhaustively videoed, with photographers allowed to take close-up shots, a practice that verges on the creepy.

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Dealers then flog the. Beecroft, a petite figure in a buttoned-up raincoat, made no mention of her long struggle with bulimia - one factor, surely, in her almost callous use of female nudity. The daughter of an Italian mother and British father, she has had an obsessive relationship with food since her early teens.

She has admitted to crash-dieting with amphetamines, taking anti-depressives, smoking to keep her weight down, and exercising compulsively.

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Her first show in was based on her Book of Food - a diary she kept between and detailing everything she had ever eaten. The diary was placed in the middle of a Milan art gallery; Beecroft then directed 30 women, most of them fellow art students dressed in her own clothes, to move around it. This first "performance" became the template for future shows. Over time, an element of nudity crept in, to the point where a Beecroft performance would now seem inconceivable without it.

These days, Beecroft doesn't strip off herself and her models; she did, however, recently pose naked at her rural home in Long Island, which she shares with her husband Greg Durkin, 28, and their sons, Dean and Virgil. Whether her work is 100 nudes good or not, though, there is no doubt that Beecroft's latest venue was well chosen.

It is completely transparent - allowing passers-by to stare at a lot of naked flesh. Indeed, a group of Italian schoolchildren gawped dumbfounded through the glass after turning up at the preview by accident. Take nudes Vanessa Beecroft persuades women to pose naked in public. Is it challenging art or merely soft porn for intellectuals? Luke Harding caught up with her latest show in Berlin. Luke Harding. Topics Art Germany Europe features. Reuse this 100 nudes.

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