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