January 8, 2002

Book Review: Male Nude Now


Male Nude Now: New Visions for the 21st Century
by David Leddick

David Leddick has established himself as the leading expert on the male nude in photography. His two previous picture books, Naked Men and Naked Men, Too, are now joined by their natural successor, Male Nude Now. With this soft-cover coffee-table book, Leddick aims to create a definitive collection of the best contemporary work on the male figure. And with more than 240 primarily unpublished images from some big-name artists—everyone from David Hockney to Clive Barker, Pierre et Gilles to Nan Goldin—working in the field today, he succeeds with ease.

In the introduction, Leddick traces the history of the male nude in art. From the sculptors of Ancient Greece and Rome to Michelangelo and other artists of the Italian Renaissance, the male nude has been with us. And, ironically, the Greek ideal of the male body—smooth, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places—is still evident on any Chelsea street corner. Leddick attributes the ever-growing visibility of the male nude to the rise of feminism and the gay rights movements in the 1960s. The results of these sweeping social changes have made Leddick’s valuable work possible.

Male Nude Now is divided into seven categories, which creates a cohesive and structured way of looking at the art. (Leddick also provides a brief bio and analysis of each artist’s work.) For example, the section devoted to the Neoclassicists showcases artists who place their subjects in a modern context, but whose work is firmly rooted in the past. This includes celebrity photographer Greg Gorman—who captures former Calvin Klein underwear model Joel West, now sporting a shaved head, in several moody, elastic poses—and J.B. Harter, a painter who is a curator at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. Harter’s dark, brooding Trompe l’Oeil painting (one of several in the book) reflects his acceptance of the gay lifestyle following his divorce. David Halliday, another New Orleans artist, presents porn star Jim Buck showing off his Prince Albert with a sly expression. By grouping these works together, Leddick provides the reader with a range of creative expressions within a particular style.

The section on the Eroticists, who share a carnal thrill with the viewer in some way, is especially diverse. Writer/director Clive Barker offers a witty and provocative take on the male organ. Christopher Makos displays his trademark piecemeal style, calling forth the Warholian influence he is known for. And painter Peter Wyman uses color and broad brushstrokes to create a masculine feeling that jumps off the canvas.

In his closing, Leddick ponders the future of the male nude. He writes, “As artists continue to redefine what is erotic, what is beautiful, so will we continue to grow in our ability to perceive the erotic and the beautiful where we hadn’t before.” This comprehensive and sexy book certainly leads the way. (Universe Publishing)

Reprinted from AllAmericanKink.com (2002)