Two hit jobs last month on the portrait painter Chuck Close show that the #MeToo movement has now moved into primal territory: an eruption of the age-old revulsion toward the flesh. But whereas medieval ascetics had the integrity to don a hair shirt or enter a monastery or nunnery, today’s feminist scourges maintain the prerogative of their own sexual liberation, while reverting at will to the status of disembodied self in order to flagellate males for their carnal selves.
Chuck Close is a darling of the contemporary art world; his massive, photography-based portraits have exhibited at virtually all major contemporary art venues. In 2005, he met a painter, Delia Brown, at a chic Hamptons dinner party. He said that he liked her work and asked her to pose for a photo in his studio. Brown immediately conveyed the invitation to one of her patrons, who was also a guest at the Hamptons party, as a sign of her election to the modern art-market firmament. When she phoned Close the next day to arrange the visit, he said that he wanted her to pose topless. This was hardly a novel proposal: Close’s photographs of male and female nudes are a known part of his output. Brown was insulted, however. She told Close over the phone that she needed to think about it. She then decided against the invitation. “I came to the conclusion that I was not being photographed as an artist but as a woman,” she told the New York Times. “You shouldn’t expect just because you go into an artist’s studio that you will be compromised. You should be allowed to have that experience, just like male artists who have that experience.”