The Birmingham Museum of Art
will present Body Image: American Art and the Human Form, through May 9, 2009. This exhibition explores the ways American artists have represented the human body in a variety of mediums, and features 28 drawings, prints, photographs, and bronzes dating from 1863 to 1984. The artists represented include Robert Henri, Edward Weston, and Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as Alabama artist Lucille Douglass, Geneva Mercer, and William Spratling. Many works have never before been exhibited. Pairing the works of art with each other and with quotes from the artists themselves, the exhibition demonstrates the enduring importance of the human body in the evolution of art and in our collective consciousness.
"The human body has been an important subject for artistic expression from prehistoric times," says Graham Boettcher, PhD, William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art. "The most fundamental training for any artist long consisted of the study of anatomy and life drawing."
Artists have taken myriad approaches to the depiction of the body, ranging from the realistic to the abstract. What draws artists to the nude? According to Boettcher, for American photographer Edward Weston it was the inherent geometry of the human form. George Biddle was influenced by Japanese woodblock traditions and Abraham Walkowitz by the French avant-garde. John La Farge, among other artists, sought out locations such as Tahiti in the South Pacific to explore the nude form in a natural setting.
While some artists render the human form to hone technical skills, others use the body to convey emotions and actions that underscore our common humanity, according to Boettcher. "The French sculptor Auguste Rodin declared Mans naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages. It is in this same spirit that the Birmingham Museum of Art is pleased to present Body Image."