[Paleopsych] AP: Austria Museum Lets Naked People in Free

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Thu Aug 4 22:43:56 UTC 2005

Austria Museum Lets Naked People in Free

By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer/Fri Jul 29, 6:19 PM ET/

Vienna's prestigious Leopold Museum is usually a pretty buttoned-down place, 
but on Friday, some of the nudes in its marble galleries were for real.

Scores of naked or scantily clad people wandered the museum, lured by an offer 
of free entry to "The Naked Truth," a new exhibition of early 1900s erotic art, 
if they showed up wearing just a swimsuit -- or nothing at all.

With a midsummer heat wave sweeping much of Europe, pushing temperatures into 
the mid-90s Fahrenheit in Vienna, the normally staid museum decided that making 
the most of its cool, climate-controlled space would be just the ticket to spur 
interest in the show.

"We find a naked body every bit as beautiful as a clothed one," said Elisabeth 
Leopold, who founded the museum with her husband, Rudolf. "If they came only 
out of lust, we have to accept that. We stand for the truth."

Peter Weinhaeupl, the Leopold's commercial director, said the goal was twofold 
-- help people beat the heat while creating a mini-scandal reminiscent of the 
way the artworks by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and others 
shocked the public when they first were unveiled a century ago.

"We wanted to give people a chance to cool off, and bring nakedness into the 
open," he said. "It's a bit of an experiment. Egon Schiele was a young and wild 
person in his day. He'd want to be here."

Most of those who showed up in little or no attire Friday opted for swimsuits, 
but a few hardy souls dared to bare more. Among them was Bettina Huth of 
Stuttgart, Germany, who roamed the exhibition wearing only sandals and a black 
bikini bottom.

Although she used a program at one point to shield herself from a phalanx of TV 
cameras, Huth, 52, said she didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

"I go into the steam bath every week, so I'm used to being naked," she said. "I 
think there's a double morality, especially in America. We lived in California 
for two years, and I found it strange that my children had to cover themselves 
up at the beach when they were only 3 or 4 years old. That's ridiculous."

For years, the Austrian capital has been known for a small but lively nudist 
colony on the Donauinsel, an island in the middle of the Danube River where 
people disrobe, often startling the unsuspecting joggers, cyclists and 
rollerbladers who happen upon them.

Overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Austria has always been somewhat more 
conservative than many other European countries. The Viennese were scandalized 
when native art nouveau masters like Klimt -- best known for his sensuous "The 
Kiss" and the subject of an upcoming film starring John Malkovich -- began 
producing works that some critics panned as "indecency," "artistic 
self-pollution" and borderline pornography.

The 180 works on display at the Leopold through Aug. 22 include Klimt's "Nude 
Veritas," an 1899 painting of a naked young woman with wildflowers in her hair, 
and Schiele's "Two Female Friends," a 1915 rendition of two nude women 
entangled in each other's arms.

Max Hollein, director of Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle art museum, likened the 
public uproar at the time to "the visible outcry at the live transmission from 
last year's Super Bowl when, for a few seconds, CBS broadcast shots of the 
singer Janet Jackson's exposed nipple."

Mario Vorhemes, a 20-year-old Vienna resident who strode into the Leopold on 
Friday wearing nothing but a green and black Speedo, was nonchalant.

"What's the big deal?" he asked. "We're born naked into this world. Why can't 
we walk around in it without clothes from time to time?"

Elina Ranta, a fully clothed tourist from Finland who checked out the art -- 
and the audience -- left amused.

"I thought, 'This is strange. How is this possible in a museum?'" Ranta said. 
"We've been in many galleries and I've never seen people walking around like 

"In English, my name means 'beach,'" she added. "That's pretty funny under 
these circumstances, isn't it?"

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