What does nakedness show us? What does it hide?

InLiquid Gallery presents The Naked Show

5 minute read
As if two surfboards side by side, a view of each side of Wind’s piece: a yellow surfboard covered in multimedia collage.

One of the most evocative pieces in The Naked Show—an intriguing but ultimately blinkered ensemble exhibit at InLiquid Gallery—is a photograph that shows not one inch of exposed skin.

Kathleen Greco’s Push captures a pregnant body shrouded in a white sheet: a curve of thigh, a hillock of raised knee, a sense of effort visible in the fabric’s diagonal strain, the sheet knotted at just the place where a baby would emerge.

For the viewer, there’s both exasperation and mystery here: But I want to see! The figure’s hiddenness confounds: is the laboring person seeking privacy from intrusive eyes? Is the sheet a drape of modesty, or one of shame? We’re left to guess—and in the process, to cross-examine our own thirst to look. If we could yank away the curtain and glimpse this person, naked, would we understand?

That’s one of the questions bubbling underneath The Naked Show, which features paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures by 15 of InLiquid’s members. What does nakedness show us? What does it conceal? And why has nudity—particularly the female nude—been such an obsession of artists through the ages?

What can we strip away?

Figure This by Carol Taylor-Kearney, a mixed media piece that includes collage, objects, and painting on glass, speaks wryly to that last question. In the foreground is an artist—young, female, smocked, holding a 3-D pencil that is half the size of her body—in a studio framed with collaged images from the “masters”: figures by Michelangelo, Degas, Cassatt, and da Vinci.

There’s a bust of Nefertiti, a glimpse of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, a stamp-sized image of a reclining Venus, the enigmatic Mona Lisa. The young artist’s own easel, affixed to the left side of the frame, is a wire scrim over glass on which we see inked a male nude, a female nude, and a skeleton.

The message: how can a contemporary artist truly see the human form through centuries of one-sided depiction: nearly always a male artist capturing a female model? How can a creator strip away—pun intended—the mythology, sentimentality, power inequities, and shame surrounding images of the naked body?

Redemptive possibility

Daniel Dallmann’s Model and Artist, situated next to Taylor-Kearney’s work, offers one redemptive possibility. In it, an artist—female, with a long gray braid—reaches one hand toward her model, a young woman, full-frontally nude, as she steps down from the table where she has been posing.

The model’s tentativeness, the artist’s helping hand, the apparent connection between the two despite their differences (older/younger, clothed/naked): everything about the painting suggests a relationship that supersedes whatever happens on the canvas. The model is not merely an object; she’s a human being, with a life beyond the atelier.

Myths of the body

Several other works revisit images of nakedness in classic art and myth. In Robert Zurer’s Leda and the Swan, we look down as if from the sky to see pink legs akimbo, a triangle of white underwear, the orange beak of the implacable swan penetrating the figure’s right thigh.

Look closer, and you’ll see how the paint on that thigh has been roughed, how the skin around the bird’s intruding beak is darker, as if bruised. Such details cast a verdict on this myth: not a seduction, but a rape.

Several artists take on myths of a different sort, offering counterpoint to the images, ubiquitous in both high art and consumer culture, of bodies that are youthful, taut, strong, flawless, and seemingly immortal.

Florence Weisz took photos she describes in her artist statement as “lurid knee selfies” following her knee-replacement surgery; we see just-sutured skin, medical staples piercing her ruched and swollen flesh. It’s hard to look at this quartet of images, and hard to avoid staring into a stark reminder that all of us are made of mortal stuff.

Black & white photo of two older people’s bodies tenderly entwined, heads out of frame, one hand resting on the other’s thigh
Sara Allen’s 2023 ‘Folding’, on view at InLiquid. (Gallery photo by Andreina Mijares Cisneros.)

Sara Allen’s photographs also challenge the persistence of youth-worship by highlighting older bodies. In her black-and-whites, we see capacious hips, age spots, and elbow creases, the cushiony folds of a belly, the faint scribble of a long-ago wound. Her lens is both frank and tender: yes, this is what age looks like, and it is lovely.

Ironic or erotic?

Across the room, a cheeky rejoinder to Allen’s quiet work: John Wind’s My Surfboard (The Secret Life of Felix Jesus Consalvos) is a vintage surfboard, one side festooned with ephemera—theater tickets to A Chorus Line and Sweeney Todd, luggage tags, tea bags, stickers of roses, rainbows, smileys. On the flip side is gay erotica, images of men with extra-long penises pasted to their groins, ads for videos called “Furry Freaks” and “Animal Instincts”, men in bulging briefs or leather chaps.

Nakedness, for sure, and a play on the notions of “top” and “bottom”: the unbridled queer aesthetic riding underneath the semi-coded emblems of pop culture. Is it ironic? Erotic? Depends which side of the surfboard you stand on.

The naked truth

In spite of these varied works—including Kathran Siegel’s whimsical wooden Lady of the Rocks, a naked woman with wings sprouting from her back and butterflies at her feet, and Emily Potts’s Bubble Gum Guy, a gaunt figure staring morosely into his hands (and fashioned, in part, of Double Bubble gum)—I ultimately felt unsatisfied with The Naked Show.

Here’s why: the exhibit’s flier promised to highlight “the myriad limitations and potentials of our infinitely varied human bodies.” But nearly all the bodies depicted were colored bisque, peach, beige, or pink. In short: white (or white-appearing) people.

The one obvious exception—D’nae Harrison’s Life Lines, with two brown wooden hands splayed over two capacious brown breasts—felt troubling in its ambiguity: are those hands lovingly cupping the breasts or roughly squeezing them? And why are the body parts completely disembodied—no torso, no head, no expression?

The naked truth is that all human bodies grow and break, suffer and heal. But there are variables that powerfully shape experience: dis/ability, gender expression and, most significantly, skin tones that signify culture and tribe, that point to belonging and exclusion. The Naked Show missed an opportunity to expose that stunning range.

At top: front and back views of John Wind’s My Surfboard. (Photos by Andreina Mijares Cisneros.)

What, When, Where

The Naked Show. Through June 1, 2024 at InLiquid Gallery, 1400 N. American Street, gallery 108. Free (donations welcome). (215)-235-3405 or

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