Spencer Tunick criticises Woolworths' refusal to allow mass nudity on rooftop carpark

Photographer says ‘this kind of stuff happens in Indonesia or Italy’ but he did not expect it to happen in Australia

The internationally renowned photographer Spencer Tunick has criticised a decision by the Australian supermarket chain Woolworths to refuse permission for a mass-nudity photograph, saying “this kind of stuff happens in Indonesia or Italy” but he did not expect it to happen in Australia.

Tunick, who is based in New York, had planned to photograph 350 to 500 nude people on the rooftop carpark of the supermarket’s Prahran store on Chapel Street, in inner-city Melbourne. He said he chose the venue for its “otherworldly appeal” and “apocalyptic setting”.

But the supermarket chain refused as it does not want its customers inconvenienced.

“The request for the photo was for the weekend, which is the busiest time of the week for shopping in our stores, and as such we must ensure customers have convenient access to our store when we are open,” a spokeswoman said. “We are proud supporters of the Prahran community and we also remain supportive of the Chapel Street Precinct Association’s Provocaré Festival of the Arts event.”

Tunick said that while he had similar experiences in other countries, he was surprised permission had been denied in Australia.

“This kind of stuff happens in Indonesia or Italy,” he said, saying that he had also been refused permission to stage his works by the president of Mexico and the government of South Korea.

Tunick said the Woolworths carpark was chosen because it was high up and “no one” would be disturbed, including the supermarket’s customers. He said the work was going to be the main photo of a series of installations in the Chapel Street precinct in Melbourne, commissioned by Chapel Street’s Provocaré 2018.

A photo by Spencer Tunick taken in Selfridges in London in 2003.
A photo by Spencer Tunick taken in Selfridges in London in 2003. Photograph: Spencer Tunick

“I really hope they agree [to change their mind],” he said. “When I was up there at 9.30am, there were only four cars up there.”

He said he was not currently looking for a replacement venue.

The local business group, the Chapel Street Precinct Association, has blasted the chain for being “prudish”, “selfish” and “shortsighted” – and started an online petition against the ban.

Chrissie Maus, the association’s marketing and events director, said Woolworths was missing out on a part of history.

“There is no downside,” she said. “This will put Prahran and Chapel Street on the map globally. To have thousands of people coming on to Chapel Street to do the photo, the economic benefit is significant.

“Woolworths are being prudes, and acting like we are in a nanny state. Their shortsightedness shows they are not listening to or reflecting the community. The 1,000 entries show there is an appetite for this activity.”

Maus said that, as part of the festival, Tunick had three other installation pieces planned for Melbourne that would still go ahead.

“The other three are locked in. They will take place in other surprise locations. Within either South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor.”

The Victorian premier and opposition leader both said the decision on the Prahran rooftop car park was up to Woolworths, while the state tourism minister believed it was a good opportunity for Victoria.

“Any rooftop in July in Melbourne’s going to be reasonably chilly, I would think, but I’m sure they’ll find an alternative venue,” the premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Thursday.

The state tourism minister, John Eren, could see the benefits, given the views the location offers of the city skyline.

“It is something that goes global and certainly the backdrop would be Melbourne,” he told Melbourne radio 3AW. “I’d probably think that Woolworths might reconsider their options.”

The Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy, said the company has “got their right to say yes or no”.

The event’s organisers said they had done their research and found the staged nude photograph would have minimal impact on Woolworths customers.

“This decision is ludicrous because Spencer’s installation will be finished by 9am,” Chapel Street Precinct Association’s John Lotton said. “It doesn’t get busy until much later.”

The artist last visited Australia in 2010, photographing nude people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. He has also staged photos at New York’s Grand Central Station and United Nations building.

Guardian staff

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