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Body of work

Two new shows examine the body in 20th century art. James Pallister reports

Hilary Mantel’s recent essay in the London Review of Books put bodies in the news spotlight. The essay is worth a read, and is distinguished more for its thoughtful examination of our relationship with royalty, their bodies, and the reproductive obligations of those within hereditary monarchies – than any apparent Middleton-bashing.

The work of Sylvia Sleigh, a New York artist associated with the city’s 1960s and 1970s feminist art scene, initially made waves for the inversion of the stereotypical nude artist-subject relationship. Sleigh’s nudes were attractive young men, their features recorded in high realism, unflinching depictions of tan lines and pubic hair, with the quilts and blankets they sprawl on picked out with the kind of detail sometimes seen in Egon Schiele’s work. Sleigh’s work is now on show at Tate Liverpool.

The exhibition Tracing the Century will travel shortly to the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). This show, previously at Tate Liverpool, explores how bodies and drawing have been part of – and the subject of – developments in Modern Art: William Orpen; de Kooning; Henry Moore, Cézanne, Paul Klee, Richard Hamilton and Paul Nash all feature. The Teesside town described as England’s first new town, was – at the height of its late Victorian boom period – given its own bodily association in 1862 by soon-to-be prime minister William Gladstone, who called it a ‘baby Hercules’. The town has shrunk in stature since, but its collection of art works, gifted to the town in boom times, has not waned. This collection is explored in the show How We Became Modern, which runs until 10 March.

Visit Sylvia Sleigh at Tate Liverpool until 3 May. Tracing the Century: Drawing as a Catalyst for Change opens MIMA on 22 March and runs until 7 July

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