Nude gender quotas won't be put in place says Art Gallery of NSW
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Nude gender quotas won't be put in place says Art Gallery of NSW

The Art Gallery of NSW has no plans to follow the lead of Britain's Royal Academy and introduce a gender quota for exhibitions of nudes on its walls.

However, its deputy director Maud Page says filling gender gaps in historical collections remains a priority for the gallery in an era where the representation of women as artists and subjects is under critical review.

Nude exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, 2016.

Nude exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, 2016.

Photo: Janie Barrett

Gender imbalance exists in much historical art but for a number of years the gallery has put a lot of energy into analysing its collection and forward exhibition program to ensure improvements in the gender representation of its artists, she said.

"Institutional collecting history means that there are fewer works by women in the collections of the 19th and early-20th centuries, but by the end of the last century ratios were changing, and more women came into the collections," Page said.

"We aim to better that considerably, and have been acquiring from not only contemporary women, but working retrospectively to fill in some of the historical gaps."

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The Royal Academy has announced it will ensure an equal gender split of naked men and women in an exhibition of Renaissance art due to open in March, which will include around 85 works created between 1400 and 1530, London's Telegraph newspaper reports.

The exhibition is to include masterpieces from Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Dürer and Cranach and will track the development of the "idea and ideal" of the nude throughout Europe.

In terms of programming, Liz Ann Macgregor, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, said her institution did aim for gender balance and that the MCA was planning a show with some male nudity - albeit by a male.

"It raises an interesting point - does the gender of the artist matter? Would we have to balance, say Tracey Emin's nudes, or is it only if they are done by a man? We would certainly have a discussion about whether to show nudes and in what context. So it's not straightforward," Macgregor said.

As for current acquisitions, the MCA has achieved gender parity, even though historic imbalance ran deep.

"I think that it is essential to aim for parity," Macgregor said. "There are so many fantastic women artists, the question should be 'Why not?' rather than 'Why?'"

In the Art Gallery of NSW's 2016-17 Sydney International Art Series exhibition, Nude: art from the Tate collection, the gallery looked closely at both male and female representations of the nude form.

Gender equality: Auguste Rodin's The Kiss.

Gender equality: Auguste Rodin's The Kiss.

Photo: © Tate, London 2016.

It was one of the first exhibitions Page experienced when she commenced at the Art Gallery of NSW.

"It was fabulous to encounter numerous nudes as I arrived in Sydney, including Louise Bourgeois’ Arched figure (1993), which the Gallery acquired, and Sylvia Sleigh’s Paul Rosano Reclining (1974), which was one of the most popular male nudes in the exhibition," she said.

"The nude has always fascinated artists and viewers, and never more so than today. Dreams of ideal and perfected bodies are everywhere in our culture and the proliferation of those images has been accelerated by the internet. So now, more than ever, I highly recommend the viewing of a painted nude in the flesh at an art museum!"