Thousands of people are gathering in Hull this evening to see for the first time New York photographer Spencer Tunick’s work from last year’s acclaimed Sea of Hull event.
Officially the largest nude installation in the UK, over 3,200 people stripped off and daubed themselves in blue paint last July, dramatically transforming the city’s urban landscape, and bringing world-wide publicity in its wake.
The Rose Bowl at Queens Gardens, Alfred Gelder Street and the Scale Lane Bridge, were filled with naked blue bodies, painted to reflect the city’s maritime history and choreographed by the artist from on high.
Nearly 3,000 have returned for the official reveal of the Skin exhibition, which also includes six of Ron Mueck’s disturbingly real-looking sculptures - including a new work made in response to the city - and four of Lucian Freud’s nudes.
The commission - which cost under £30,000 - with three photographs acquired for the Ferens Art Gallery costing another £16,000 each - revealed the extent of the city’s ambition to transform itself through culture.
Huge numbers have visited so far during this year’s City of Culture - with over 200,000 to the Ferens Art Gallery alone.
Tonight’s attendees have come from as far away as the USA and Japan, leaving just a handful of hotel rooms available. At least two hotels, the city’s 136-bedroom Premier Inn, near the Deep, and the Kingston Theatre Hotel were fully booked.
One of the participants from last year Hannah Savage, who works in local government, said taking part had been liberating in unexpected ways: “It was a really special experience and has been more significant than I thought it would be. I took a really hopeful message (from it) of acceptance of your body.”
But perhaps the most striking exhibit is that of artist Ron Mueck’s own sleeping head - which is so realistic that you expect its eyes to suddenly open.
The Australian sculptor, who used to be a model maker and puppeteer for childrens’ television and films, creates strangely unsettling sculptures in fibreglass, silicone and resin, that faithfully reproduce the minute detail of the human body, down to the individual pores and hairs on arms, but can be tiny or hugely out-sized.
The new work, Poke, created in response to a visit to Hull last year, features a stocky man reaching out determinedly with a long pole.
Curator Kirsten Simister said they expected people to “really respond” to Spencer Tunick’s work - but also that of Mueck: “It is so life-like, it is strange encounter one-on-one and each person will respond differently.”
She added: “I wouldn’t really like to spend the night in here with the sculptures. You always have the strangest feeling they are about to move.”
Ms Simister expects the gallery to be “super busy” tomorrow: “This is a crowning moment for the gallery. The interest this particular exhibition is garnering as it goes is a really brilliant coup for the city and the Ferens and is helping raise awareness of our fantastic collection, ambition and tying to attract new audiences.”