Nude Horses Around Bareback In Name Of Art

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday May 24, 2000

By PETER GOTTING

It's not often, walking through the Art Gallery of NSW, that a woman is heard sternly warning her daughter: ``Just stay here don't go in there."

But then again, it's not often that a naked woman can be seen riding a horse in a room full of traditional European oil paintings.

Yet that's what is happening at the gallery this week and it's all in the name of contemporary art, as part of the Biennale of Sydney.

Chinese-born, New York-based artist Cai Guo-Qiang is ``performing" a still-life painting session, with three Sydney painters, Street Boxer (the horse) and life model Hollie-Berrie.

``The audience will come in having this feeling of admiration for the traditional, the classical arts," Guo-Qiang says, speaking through an interpreter. ``And in this mind-set, walking through the hallway, they turn the corner and all of a sudden find themselves in the 21st century in today's contemporary art setting."

Contemporary, that is, but drawing heavily on art history. It's a re-enactment of a 100-year-old Russian performance, with Guo-Qiang not so much painting a woman on a horse but the creation of art.

``One of the reasons for doing the painting like this is kind of like doing a sketch or a documentation of the event itself," he says.

``It's using the history of art and its cultural context as part of a work of art."

The horse and the female body are both very important in art history, he says, as evidenced in many paintings and sculptures at the AGNSW.

It's for this reason a naked woman on a horse in an art gallery would not be considered offensive, he says.

``Maybe if someone is just walking down the street, [a woman] riding a horse naked isn't considered [art] but in this space there's lots of contradiction the traditional and contemporary with those juxtapositions, it's not really a question."

For model Hollie-Berrie, posing naked is nothing new, although usually not astride a horse.

And usually the audience is just artists not members of the public.

Yet she is not daunted.

``It doesn't really change my perspective on things actually," she says. ``People who come to the Art Gallery would respect the human form as much as an art class.

``So far, everyone's been pretty normal. There's been no heckling or anything."

But she admits she finds performing in a public space ``a little bit more exciting" than a studio. ``The hours seem to go faster," she says.Cai Guo-Qiang's Still Life Performance is at the Art Gallery of NSW each day between noon and 2pm until May 29.

© 2000 Sydney Morning Herald

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