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Art in the raw: Who will tour James Turrell retrospective in the nude?

Seeing naked bodies depicted in art is a common expectation of a gallery visit, seeing them in the flesh is quite another.

For 150 visitors to the National Gallery of Australia this scenario will become a reality when they leave their clothes, and their inhibitions, at the door and tour the James Turrell: A Retrospective exhibition in the nude led by Melbourne artist Stuart Ringholt.

ACT Nudist Club member Andrew was one Canberran who was looking forward to the April 1 tour and was already trying to convince another friend to overcome the hurdle of embarrassment and join him for the "very rare event".

"My biggest piece of advice is just do it, within five minutes you realise no one is checking you out anyway… within 10 minutes they realise they're the same as everyone else," he said of going nude in front of strangers for the first time.

"I would love it if the gallery did it again or if it became a semi-regular thing that would be wonderful."

If the three tours are a success Andrew and others keen to experience art in the buff could have another opportunity at the National Portrait Gallery later this year.


But other Canberrans, including the gallery's director, Gerard Vaughan, have been less keen about getting their gear off.

Former chief minister Jon Stanhope, remembered for his contribution to ACT's public art, dismissed the Turrell nude tours as a stunt he wouldn't dignify.

Although the former politician said he had a broad mind and was looking forward to seeing the retrospective from the artist he admired, he was cynical about the motivations behind Canberra's first nude art tours – especially for a national institution.

"Perhaps I'm showing my age but I think it's stunt-ish," he said.

"I have no issue with those that want to participate … but I don't know that it enhances the gallery or art."

ACT Arts Minister Joy Burch will also be keeping her clothes on, with a spokeswoman confirming she had no plans to attend the tours which showed the "diversity" of the NGA's exhibitions.

But federal Arts Minister George Brandis could be a maybe, with a spokeswoman remaining tight-lipped on whether he would bare all for the tour.

"It's important to encourage public engagement with our cultural institutions through a wide range of programs and activities," the spokeswoman said.

Although tickets only went on sale on Tuesday, the NGA's assistant director of curatorial and education services, Simon Elliott, was confident the three tours would sell out after a huge amount of interest.

"We're not expecting any VIPs, if they were there they'll be coming in as an individual," he said.

"Stuart's practice is partially about encouraging people who don't come to an art gallery to come to an art gallery … he's light-hearted about it but he is serious about how the skin does relate to colour and light in a unique way.

"He's very much interested in changing people's perception of how they view art."

A spokeswoman for the portrait gallery said an upcoming exhibition Australians Unclad featuring portraits of people in stages of undress could, fittingly, include a nude tour, but there were no definite plans.

Mr Elliott said it was too early to say if the rest of the NGA would be open for nude tours.

  • The James Turrell: A Retrospective naked tours are open to over-18s only on April 1 at 5.30pm and April 2 at 7am and 7.30pm. For more information visit