Spencer Tunick with one of his artworks

Spencer Tunick

United States 1967

Installation, Photography


Spencer Tunick
Spencer Tunick
United States
March 30, 2016

Nudity has been used in visual arts in so many different ways that it became quite complicated to create an artwork that will show or explore something unusual and unique about naked human skin. Spencer Tunick, New York-based photographer, succeeded in making a different approach to nudity, trough his exceptionally complex and breathtakingly beautiful mass nude photo shoots. For over twenty years, Tunick has been gathering large groups of volunteers, hundreds or thousands of them and creating controversial human installations worldwide. His goal is to create architectural masterpieces made of human skin, perfectly blended with various surroundings.

Photographer Puzzled by Installation

Tunick was born in Middletown, New York in 1967 and from the earliest childhood he was surrounded by cameras and photo equipment. His father owned a keychain photo-viewer store where Tunick used to play as a kid and ask his father a lot of questions about photography. What is really intriguing about Tunick is that nude photography became the main and only focus of his work quite early. In 1986, when he visited London for the first time, he took some nude photographs at a bus stop and became deeply intrigued with this genre of photography, wanting to explore it as thoroughly as possible. Tunick graduated with a BFA from Emerson College in 1988 and already in 1992 started to document nudes in public places in New York. At that time, he was working primarily with photography and video. His pieces were focused more on nude individuals and smaller groups of nudes. However, in 1994, he decided to try working with larger groups and took photos of around thirty nude people in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan. This was a turning point in his career, when he started thinking about working with groups of people through performance.

Nude photography became the main and only focus of Tunick’s work quite early in his career

Spencer Tunick - Aletsch Glacier, 2007 artist exhibition link section sign march pose 2010
Spencer Tunick – Aletsch Glacier, 2007

Nature Versus Culture

The main goal of Tunick’s work is creating mass scenes which personify the battle of nature against human culture. Human flesh placed against various improvised backdrops, such as urban areas, deserts or even cold, snowy mountains is the perfect metaphor for returning to pre-industrial era despite our current modern and digitalized world. Tunick wanted to spread his enthusiasm for human installation worldwide and he has traveled to many countries in Europe and Asia to present his ideas in the most diverse public settings. He invested enormous efforts into organizing volunteer participants counting up to ten thousand people. His work is beyond living sculpture and performance, making a category on its own. Tunick investigates various social, political and legal issues related to nudity in public domain. Also, his philosophy is that naked human bodies, when put together, go through a metamorphosis and obtain a new shape, which depends on their natural or urban surroundings. Tunick carefully chooses his models by gender, hair, age, skin tone and highly appreciates diversity. He is also interested in the contrast between the natural and the artificial and this is the reason why he chooses well-known urban areas to place his installations.

Tunick is creating mass scenes which personify the battle of nature against human culture

Specner Tunick - Stadschouwburg theatre, 2014 artist exhibition link section sign march pose 2010
Spencer Tunick – Stadschouwburg theatre, 2014

Controversies Followed by Success

Having in mind the nature of his work, it is not surprising that Tunick has been arrested five times since 1992 while trying to set up his work in New York City. It wasn’t until May 2000 that the U.S. District Court recognized that Tunick’s work is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. law. However, this wasn’t the end of his troubles – just four months after his ideas were deemed protected by the First Amendment, Tunick applied for his first New York City permit to organize a mass nude shoot and was denied again. At that time, he decided to start working solely abroad and hasn’t tried to organize exhibitions in New York in over ten years. Since 1994, he set up over 75 human installations worldwide and his most prominent photographs have been commissioned by many galleries and museums, including Art Basel (1999), Institut Cultura Barcelona (2003), The Saatchi Gallery (2003), MOCA Cleveland (2004). Also, a dozen of documentary movies have been inspired by Tunick’s work, such as BALTIC (produced by BBC), Positively Naked ( produced by Helen Hood Scheer in 2004), Naked States ( by Arlene Donnelly) and Naked Pavement (by Joshua Tunick).

Spencer Tunick - Sea of Hull, 2011
Spencer Tunick – Sea of Hull, 2011

Important Projects

When it comes to his biggest projects so far, three of the most significant ones all happened in 2007. On June 3, 2007 he photographed a gathering of 2000 people in Amsterdam. Some of the people were in a car park, others at a nearby gas station or riding bicycles. Also, a smaller group of people was photographed on a canal with a temporary bridge construction. This gathering was particularly beautiful because of Tunick’s idea to make the optical illusion of people floating above the canal, since he used an extremely thin temporary construction to play the part of the bridge. Another event was held on May 6, 2007 in Mexico City, at Zocalo square, where even more participants gathered – roughly 7000 of them and this was the new record for Tunick. At the same time, he became aware of the particular issues which arise when photographing large numbers of people, such as the difficulty to frame them all at once. Some of the buildings around the square were public and administrative institutions, so Tunick couldn’t get a permission to climb these buildings and shoot the participants from the rooftop. Lastly, the most beautiful Tunick’s shoot also happened in 2007 – it was the Aletsch Glacier gathering which was organized to raise the awareness of global warming and shrinking of glaciers. The temperature during the shoot was very low and it was challenging for participants to follow Tunick’s directions. However, this event turned out to be a great success and it has received the AME Grand Trophy for Public Service.

Tunick waged the war for his art until the grand victory

Spencer Tunick - Burgundy, 2009 2016 contact 2016 videos
Spencer Tunick – Burgundy, 2009

Staying True to the Plan

Tunick’s road to success has been long, hard and unpredictable. Even in this modern world of ours which seems to be much more open-minded and uncensored than the world of our parents and grandparents, the artists like Tunick are bound to have hurdles when it comes to the freedom of self-expression. Yet, Tunick stayed true to himself from the very beginning and never gave up trying to make his projects accepted worldwide. Since the large groups of volunteers from many different countries agreed on participating in Tunick’s controversial installations which are now widely accepted and appreciated, it is safe to say that Tunick waged the war for his vision until the grand victory.

Spencer Tunick lives and works in New York.
Featured image: Spencer Tunick with one of his artworks
All images copyright ©  Spencer Tunick

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2010Everyday PeopleThe Lowry, Manchester, UKSolo
2010Citadinos (City Dwellers)Museo de Arte Contemporneo de Monterrey, Monterrey, MexicoSolo
2010The Right to ProtestMuseum on the Seam, Jerusalem, IsraelGroup
2010Sensational ArchitectureViale Pietro De Coubertin, Rome, ItalyGroup
2010Party! New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, West Midlands, UKGroup
20093rd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary ArtMoscow, RussiaGroup
2009City DwellersCentro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, Mexico City, MexicoSolo
2008The Beautiful GameKunsthalle Wien, Public Space Karlsplatz, AustriaSolo
2008Explorations in ArchitectureHales Gallery, London, United KingdomSolo
2008Bread and Soccer: In the Arena of ArtAustrian CulturalnForum NYC, New YorknGroup
2008Lost Paradise - The Angel’s GazeBern, SwitzerlandGroup
2007Collection of Sylvio Perlstein: Busy Going CrazyLa Maison Rouge, Paris,nFrancenGroup
2007Spencer TunickGalerie Forsblom, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
2007Spencer Tunick – Serie Ciudades DesnudasCaracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas, VenezuelanSolo
2007Spencer Tunick: DREAM AMSTERDAM 2007DreamnAmsterdam Foundation, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsnSolo
2007Spencer Tunicki8 galleri, Reykjavik, IcelandSolo
2006Spencer TunickMuseum Kunst Palast Dusseldorf, GermanySolo
2006Spencer TunickHales Gallery, London, UKSolo
2006Spencer TunickAkureyri Art Museum, Akureyri, IcelandSolo
2006Spencer TunickBrugge Plus, Concetgebouw, Brugge, BelgiumSolo
2006Spencer TunickBALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UKSolo
20069th Havana BiennaleWilfredo Lam Center for Contemporary Arts, Havana, CubaGroup
2005JoyCasino-Luxembourg, LuxembourgGroup
2005Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon 2005Lyon, FranceGroup
2005Dead kids do nothing31GRAND, Brooklyn, NYGroup
2005Rite of AssemblyWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MNnnGroup
2005Spencer TunickAlbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New YorkSolo
2005Spencer TunickCorpus Ibericim, Kültur Büro Barcelona, Barcelona, SpainSolo
2005Spencer TunickRuArts Foundation, Moscow, RussiaSolo
2004Public Works 2001 – 2004I-20 Gallery, New YorkSolo
2004Spencer TunickHales Gallery, LondonSolo
2004Manmade and NaturalMuseum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, OHSolo
2004Bodily Space: New Obsessions in Figurative SculptureAlbright-Knox Art Gallery,nBuffalo, New YorknGroup
2004The Amazing & The ImmutableContemporary Art Museum, Institute for Research in Art, University of South Florida, Tampa, FlGroup
2004I Need YouCentrePasquArt, Kunthaus Centre d’art, Biel Bienne, SwitzerlandGroup
2003Gli AltriGas Art Gallery, Turin, ItalyGroup
2003Agrupémonos Todos (Come Rally)Museum De Arte Contemporanea de Vigo, Vigo, SpainGroup
2003Project ParadiseThe Bunker in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, GermanyGroup
200310th Annual Watermill Benefit 2003Watermill Center, Water Mill, NYGroup
2003Art for Life Estate of Russell Simmons, Easthampton, NYGroup
2003Nude AdriftInstitut de Cultura de Barcelona, Barcelona, SpainSolo
2002Spencer TunickMusee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, QuebecSolo
2002Nude AdriftHales Gallery, LondonSolo
2002Spencer TunickArtcore, TorontoSolo
2002Upstate, Part 1I-20 Gallery, New YorkSolo
2002Spencer TunickStudio Miscetti, Rome, ItalySolo
2002The 12th City, XXV Bienal de São PauloSão Paulo, BrazilGroup
2002The Nude in 20th Century ArtKunsthalle in Emden, GermanyGroup
200220th Anniversary Benefit ExhibitionArt in General, New YorkGroup
2001New AcquisitionsDeste Center for Contemporary Art, Athens, GreeceGroup
2001Metamorphosis and CloningMusee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, Montreal, QuebecnnGroup
2001InputMuseum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf, GermanyGroup
2001I Love New YorkI-20 Gallery, New YorkGroup
2001Beyond OriginThe Hellenic American Union, Athens, GreeceGroup
2001Deptford Town HallLondon, UKSolo
2001Spencer Tunick/SelfDe Beyerd Centrum voor Beeldende Kunst, Breda,nThe NetherlandsnSolo
2001Le Tribu dell’ArteGalleria Communale Arte de Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, ItalySolo
2000Reaction ZoneI-20 Gallery, New YorkSolo
2000America ZoneHales Gallery, London, UKSolo
2000PerspectiveFIAC 2000, Paris, FranceSolo
2000Contemporaneo IODACThe Canary Islands, SpainGroup
2000Photographing Maine: 1850-2000Maine Coast Artists, Rockport, MaineGroup
2000HBO Documentary Film FestivalNew YorkGroup
1999Someplace You Haven’t BeenArt & Public, Geneva, SwitzerlandSolo
1999Magazin 4Vorarlberger Kunstverein, Bregenz, AustriaSolo
1998Naked StatesI-20 Gallery, New YorkSolo
1996Naked PavementExquisite Corpse, Burlington, VermontSolo
1995America ZoneThicket Gallery, New YorkSolo
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