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Mona Kuhn: Under My Skin by Elizabeth Avedon


Mona Kuhn Curates Nudes at Flowers Gallery

Elizabeth Avedon: What brings you to New York?

Mona Kuhn: I have been invited to curate an exhibition titled “Under My Skin” at Flowers Gallery in New York City. It is a selection of nudes in contemporary photography, with works created mostly in the last five years. The exhibition reflects how we are currently representing the nude through the photo medium.

Aside from photography, I have been an independent scholar at Getty Research Institute since 2000. In the last 13 years, I have been curious about how we humans represent ourselves in works of art, and specifically in nudes, throughout art history – in all mediums.

It is a fascinating subject to me. Trends in art come and go, but the Nude remains a canon of high art, like a shadow we cannot jump away from. My two favorite ways of escaping is to photograph and being a bookworm. The invitation to curate brought both desires together.

EA: Did you alter your point of view when shifting from artist to curator?

MK:Lets face it, curating is a competitive career. Most curators compete with each other to establish themselves intellectually in their field. There has been a huge gap in the US for museum level exhibitions related to the Nude. I am very comfortable with the theme, it is my second skin. And because it is not my profession and I am not tied in with an institution, I have the freedom to bring together works of high and low art that reflect our current culture. The choices were more emotional and guttural, than academic. I am thankful for that freedom.

EA: What disciple or philosophy do these photographers share?

MK:The photographs selected for this exhibition have two points in common: the artist either explores a new way of representing a nude and/or used a new process in their visual language.

Another important issue was that it reveals something I haven’t seen before. It was important for me not to include the usual suspects, works of close friends and colleagues, or artists I have been influenced by. I wanted to show a cross section of what is happening out there right now.  This exhibition is about how the nude is showing up here and there in the works of contemporary photographers. I made a point to choose works I was not yet familiar with, works of art that in one way or another taught me something new.

EA: What were you looking for in the various works style?

MK:A sense of clarity and confidence in the artist’ approach to the nude. The exhibition features about 20 different artists, all with their own strong visual language and unique approach. We brought together works from Los Angeles, London and NY as well as Mexico, Korea and China.

Come see! The exhibition has a contemporary urgency and irreverence to it, which makes it dynamic and exciting for the audience.  Most works were produced between 2008 and 2012.  As in any exhibition, it is important to contextualize it with within a historical parenthesis. In this case, historical means early 2000’s!

The pillars for this exhibition reference painting and performance, such as David Dawson’s photographs of Lucien Freud in his studio with nude model in 2007 and Glen Luchford photographs of Jenny Saville nude through the glass in 2002. The works/performances of Paul MacCarthy, Marina Abramovich and Boris Mikhailov were also taken into consideration.

EA: Will you be giving a talk on the work?

MK:Flowers Gallery and The New School are hosting a panel discussion moderated by George Pitts, with Vince Aletti, Shen Wei, Mariah Robertson and me. We will be talking about how this cannon of high art is being interpreted by artists now a days and its current challenges, passions and fears! It was important to me to open up the conversation from a specific work of art in the exhibition, to a broad discussion in current contemporary photography. The panel discussion takes place at The New School on June 18th.

EA: How was your recent dual exhibition in Amsterdam with Carla van de Puttelaar received? Both of your work is so stunningly beautiful, but in very different ways.

MK:The exhibition was very well received. Roy Kahmann, owner of Kahmann Gallery in Amsterdam is a dynamic and avid supporter of the photography scene in the Netherlands. He is involved with many institutions and publishes a superb magazine on contemporary European photography (aside from the gallery artists and routine). In addition to the exhibition, Wim van Sinderen, curator at the Hague Museum of Photography, interviewed Carla and I, giving his point of views in what brings our work together and what sets it apart.  

EA: What about your personal work. What are you working on?

MK:I just got back from Steidl in Germany, where I met David Campany, a writer, curator and scholar at the University of Westminster, London. He is finalizing the book about Walker Evans’ magazine work, and I was editing my upcoming book with images taken in the Great American Desert, with parallels to T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land poem. David will be writing the foreword. It comes out early 2014 titled “Private.”

“Under My Skin: Nudes in Contemporary Photography”
Curated by Mona Kuhn
20 June – 27 July, 2013
Flowers Gallery
529 West 20th Street
New York

“The Role of the Nude in Contemporary Photography”
Moderated by George Pitts With Mona Kuhn, Vince Aletti, Mariah Robertson and Shen Wei
June 18, 2013, 6:30PM
Parsons The New School for Design
Theresa Lang Auditorium
55 West 13th Street,
New York

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