York’s most daring art exhibition

Rotting corpses, decomposition and great swathes of nudity feature in ‘Flesh’

The major new exhibition entitled Flesh, featuring works by Degas, Chardin, Francis Bacon and Sarah Lucas, opened at York Art Gallery this September.

The exhibition includes more than 60 works of art displayed over three galleries showing how flesh has been portrayed by artists over the last 600 years. Human and animal, alive and dead, familiar and strange; the exhibition examines how artists respond to flesh.

Fall XII by John Stezaker, 1993-93, image courtesy of the artist & The Approach, London.
Fall XII by John Stezaker, 1993-93, image courtesy of the artist & The Approach, London.

Older works by Peter Paul Rubens, Circle of Rembrandt, Auguste Rodin and York’s own William Etty feature alongside modern and contemporary art by Bruce Nauman, Ron Mueck, Jenny Saville and Jo Spence.

Romeu my deer by Berlinde De Bruyckere, 2011, copyright Berlinde De Bruyckere courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Romeu my deer by Berlinde De Bruyckere, 2011, copyright Berlinde De Bruyckere courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

The major exhibition features loans from across the country which complement works from York Art Gallery’s own collection, including new acquisitions made possible through Art Fund’s RENEW scheme, the Contemporary Art Society and Friends of York Art Gallery.

Jo Spence, Helmet. © The Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
Jo Spence, Helmet. © The Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

Laura Turner, senior curator of art and science, said:

Fall XIII by John Stezaker, 1993-93, image courtesy of the artist & The Approach, London.
Fall XIII by John Stezaker, 1993-93, image courtesy of the artist & The Approach, London.

The exhibition consists of five rooms in the three galleries on the ground floor. These are themed Figuring Flesh, Still Life, Materiality and Surface.

Figuring Flesh will look at what it means to figure flesh and does it always relate to the human body?

It will show a range of historic, modern and contemporary depictions of flesh, from early religious works, such as a 14th century Dead Christ with Virgin and St John to Francis Bacon’s portrait Henrietta Moraes on a Blue Couch and Kossoff’s Seated Nude.

One wall is dominated by Adriana Varejao’s Green Tilework in Live Flesh. It  also shows Study of a Girl’s Head by Edgar Degas, Ceres and Two Nymphs by Peter Paul Rubens, Nude by Jenny Saville and Youth by Ron Mueck.

A Study of a Girl’s Head, by Edgar Degas, Scottish National Gallery. Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
A Study of a Girl’s Head, by Edgar Degas, Scottish National Gallery. Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
The Dead Christ with the Virgin and St. John, c.1340-1350, by the Master of the San Lucchese Altarpiece. York Art Gallery
The Dead Christ with the Virgin and St. John, c.1340-1350, by the Master of the San Lucchese Altarpiece. York Art Gallery
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes on a Blue Couch, 1965 (oil on canvas), by Francis Bacon (1909-92) / Manchester Art Gallery, UK / Bridgeman Images © The Estate of Francis Bacon
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes on a Blue Couch, 1965 (oil on canvas), by Francis Bacon (1909-92) / Manchester Art Gallery, UK / Bridgeman Images © The Estate of Francis Bacon

        Still Life looks at the way this genre is often loaded with meaning about life and decay and the precarious nature of our worldly goods.

It features historic and modern approaches including Frans Snyder’s 17th Century A Game Stall and Sam Taylor-Johnson’s 2002 time-lapse video A Little Death, in which a hare’s body is seen being consumed by maggots and clouds of flies.

The room also features Carcass of an Ox (Circle of Rembrandt) and Still Life with Fish and Cat by Jean-Baptiste Chardin.

Circle of Rembrandt Carcase of an Ox © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Circle of Rembrandt Carcase of an Ox © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Materiality focusses on the abstract ways flesh is portrayed. Highlights include Sarah Lucas’ sculpture NUD 4, The Boyle Family’s photograph Skin Series (number 8), Bruce Nauman’s 6’ tall fibreglass and resin sculpture Untitled and John Coplans’ Frieze No 6.

NUD 4, by Sarah Lucas, copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles UQ, London
NUD 4, by Sarah Lucas, copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles UQ, London
Frieze, No. 6, Two Panels, by John Coplans, 1994, 78 x 68 copy © The John Coplans Trust
Frieze, No. 6, Two Panels, by John Coplans, 1994, 78 x 68 copy © The John Coplans Trust

Surface is devoted to flesh as part of anatomies. On show are eight of Katarzyna Mirczak’s The Special Signs, in which she documented the tattoos from pieces of skin posthumously removed in the 19th Century from prisoners in Krakow, and kept preserved in formaldehyde.

It also features other works by Jo Spence, William Etty and Auguste Rodin.

A Picture of Health by Jo Spence © The Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
A Picture of Health by Jo Spence © The Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery
Male nude arms upstretched by William Etty 1828, York Art Gallery
Male nude arms upstretched by William Etty 1828, York Art Gallery

The final room is dedicated to Steve McQueen’s film entitled Bear (1993), his first major film, which shows two men wrestling together, with close-ups focussing on their interlocking bodies.

Wrestlers by William Etty c1840. York Museums Trust
Wrestlers by William Etty c1840. York Museums Trust
Juan Carreño de Miranda, St Sebastian, c.1650-1660 York Art Gallery
Juan Carreño de Miranda, St Sebastian, c.1650-1660 York Art Gallery
Peter Paul Rubens, Ceres and Two Nymphs with a Cornucopia, c. 1617-27, oil on panel, 30.9 x 24.4 cm, DPG43. By Permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
Peter Paul Rubens, Ceres and Two Nymphs with a Cornucopia, c. 1617-27, oil on panel, 30.9 x 24.4 cm, DPG43. By Permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Jointly curated with Dr Jo Applin from the University of York, the exhibition is accompanied by a publication based on new research and a varied events programme.

The exhibition has been supported by The University of York, the Henry Moore Foundation and Thomas Dane Gallery, London and features loans from Tate, National Galleries of Scotland, National Portrait Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery.

The Wound, by Berlinde De Bruyckere, 2011, copyright Berlinde De Bruyckere courtesy of Hauser & Wirth. Presented by the Art Fund and the Esmée Fairburn Foundation, 2012
The Wound, by Berlinde De Bruyckere, 2011, copyright Berlinde De Bruyckere courtesy of Hauser & Wirth. Presented by the Art Fund and the Esmée Fairburn Foundation, 2012
Venus and Cupid by William Etty 1835. York Museums Trust
Venus and Cupid by William Etty 1835. York Museums Trust
A Game Stall by Frans Snyders c1630 © York Museums Trust
A Game Stall by Frans Snyders c1630 © York Museums Trust