Art | At Vienna stadium installation, ‘you will only be nude for a short period of time’

Vienna, Austria | We imagine the avant garde photographer Spencer Tunick like an over-exercised goalkeeper setting up a defensive bulwark at Ernst Happel Stadion, site of the Euro 2008 final. He needs 2,008 nude people in the wall, requiring much earnest flapping of his mitts to get the desired alignment.

This is the number of participants—and footballs—that Tunick has requested for the May 11 “installation” at the pitch named for the renowned Austrian international and Feyenoord and Holland trainer.

Somewhat like matching swatches in a paint catalog, potential participants in Tunick’s installations are asked to rank their skin tone on a sliding scale, between pink and darker shades. (© www.spencertunick.com)

More than 70 times Tunick has overcome logistical challenge to stage the politically provocative mass nude photo shoots—in Buenos Aires, for example, positioning his subjects in the fetal position on a city street, referencing victims of the earlier dictatorship (see filmmaker Arlene Nelson‘s site related to the 2003 documentary Naked World). He spotlighted global warming by bringing participants to Aletsch glacier near Bettmeralp, Switzerland, in 2007. Each person in Vienna will be asked to bring a football. Whether placement of the balls will be strategic or required for the taking of simultaneous life-affirming throw-ins is unclear.

The organizer, the Vienna art center Kunsthalle Wien, provides only limited information to potential subjects:

Only participants will have access to the stadium. You will only be nude for a short period of time. The installation will happen Rain or Shine (the stadium’s seats are covered). … You will be contacted one week before the installation with more information and arrival time. Kindly check your email junk box if you do not receive an email from us by one week before the installation.

It would be hard to conceive of a more potent demonstration of the differences between European and American sporting cultures. If Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII produced a salacious “wardrobe malfunction,” what Tunick plans—with full backing of Österreich am Ball (Austria Has the Ball), the group charged with developing a pre-tournament cultural program—is akin to an incendiary bra- and knickers-burning, enacted 2,008 times. (Not everything passes muster in the Viennese art community—Alfred Hrdlicka‘s depiction of Jesus Christ and disciples engaged in an orgy during the Last Supper last week had to be relocated from an archdiocese museum.)

As part of the countdown to the tournament, on the Austrian side, cultural organizers last summer put together “Kick & Sun,” a three-month-long tournament at open-air swimming pools and bathing areas—yet more football with the potential for kit mishaps.

The goal of Tunick’s Vienna project is “to capture and combine the spirit of sports, the grand sweeping waves of stadium architecture and the abstract relation of the human form to modern structures,” says the artist’s programmatic statement. Perhaps unconsciously, he pays homage to the spatial elements that historically have formed part of the strong Viennese football traditions. David Goldblatt in The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football (see Jan 5) writes of the city’s “peculiar social and geographical ecology” that allowed street games to flourish between commercial properties and factories beginning in the late 19th century:

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