Even if you don’t know the name Spencer Tunick, you probably know his photos. They often feature swarms of naked bodies splayed out around iconic locations. In 2010 he staged a particularly beautiful spectacle at the Sydney Opera House called Mardi Gras: The Base. Just after dawn, over 5000 volunteers stripped off to be shot en masse out the front.
Eight years later, the New York artist had his heart set on collaborating with another Aussie icon — Woolworths. He had been in contact with local Prahran business owners to stage one of his nude shoots on the rooftop carpark of the supermarket’s Chapel Street store in Melbourne.
Ten thousand individuals had already expressed interest in taking part, suggesting it would dwarf the beautiful Opera House display. The piece, titled Return of the Nude, would be part of the Chapel Street precinct's Provocare arts festival.
But the supermarket chain has blocked the plan, turning down the photo request to shoot on their property.
Rather than playing the prude card, they’ve said the decision was made over concerns about disrupting business during a busy time. In a statement a spokeswoman explained: "We recently upgraded the rooftop car park at our Prahran store to make it more accessible and comfortable and its primary purpose is so our customers have convenient access to available car parking close to our store."
In his own reply, Tunick pointed out that he’d performed ”in Grand Central Station in NYC, the Opera House in Brugge Belgium, and the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC.” He didn’t go as far as to say if they could sort it out, so could Woolies, but you can read between the lines.
Local businesses and fans haven’t given up though, starting a petition to change Woolies’ mind. The public push is led by head of the Chapel Street Precinct Association, Chrissie Maus. Chatting to ABC Radio Melbourne, she urged the company to think long term: "This photo will go viral, not only in Australia, but right around the world...This alone will help boost in-store sales."
Tunick has always had a special connection to Australia; before his Opera House project he photographed a mass of 4500 nudes along Melbourne’s Yarra River in 2001.