Spencer Tunick Corrals 300 Naked People in Front of Montauk Lighthouse


We went on location in Montauk this week to bring you a front row seat at the naked-est party in the Hamptons. We’re not talking Surf Lodge, or even P. Diddy’s infamous pool parties — instead, we hopped on the Jitney and trekked out to far eastern Long Island to participate in a new Spencer Tunick installation with a call time of 4 a.m.

We were not alone. One fellow exhibitionist explained that Spencer has “followed” her around the world, organizing installations in several of the cities in which she’s resided (Mexico City, São Paulo, New York). Another nude dude admitted that missing the Caracas project when he lived in Venezuela was the biggest regret of his young life. Others — white, black, thin, obese, pregnant, infant — were presumably there as we were: to legally sunbathe at dawn on a wild, scenic beach. (And get an 8″x10″ artist print as a souvenir.)

We congregated in a dark parking lot adjacent to the Montauk Highway that loops around the easternmost point of Long Island, trying to avoid negative thoughts about the 50-something degree weather. Tunick went through the setups he’d be arranging for the shoot, including a horrific-sounding pose called “The Crab.” The group of 300 or so then trekked down to the beachfront, nestled between high cliffs and the picturesque Montauk Lighthouse, for more waiting. Once dawn arrived and the clouds broke, everyone stripped down and picked their way across the rocky beach to take position.

After a hot shower and a nap, we spoke to Spencer to ask about future projects and the tricky nature of organizing hundreds of unclothed people in public places. And check out some exclusive photos, shot by photographer Casey Kelbaugh.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

How many shoots have you done in New York? [At the Montauk installation] you mentioned something about a Niagara Falls installation. Any ideas of when that might happen?

I’ve done maybe twenty, twenty-five. Outside of New York, close to sixty. I’ve scouted Niagara Falls on two occasions. I want to do it below the elevator that accesses the rocks, below the falls. I do most of my works with institutions — I can do work by myself around New York, but eight hours away by car is a big deal to organize.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

What other upcoming projects do you have planned?

Right now I’m doing individual portraits in Moscow, for the Moscow Biennale as one of the featured artists. I’ll be doing other portraits on the street — making the work in July and going back to the opening at the Biennale garage in September. It will be random people who have signed up on my website for group photos.

[The most recent set was in] Ireland, which is strictly an online exhibition because the institution had trouble raising funds. The website, which launched last week, was actually down for three days because there were so many hits. It is a compliment, I must say.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

I have to ask, what’s the most dramatic thing that’s happened on an installation? I imagine corralling hundreds of nude people has its complicated factors. (To wit, an infant and a pregnant woman at the Montauk installation.)

For the Montauk work it was very difficult to communicate because of the sea, and the sound of the crashing waves. In Brazil, we were asked to take the kids out of the image who came with their parents. I also separated the men and the women, and there were some transsexuals — I didn’t know where to place them so I said they could choose for themselves.

There is also a lot of fear — dealing with glaciers to sidewalks — and you tell people to be careful; then they just parade around nonchalantly.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

Which is more difficult, a city environment or an isolated area? Both are challenging in different ways, I’m sure.

A city is more complicated, unless the location is on ice. Nudes on ice! Cities [are especially complicated] in dangerous countries, like the installation in Venezuela. That’s a challenge — extending the work into areas that are more difficult to access. The main bridge into Caracas collapsed on the same morning I did that work.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

I saw a variety of tattoos at the shoot. Are there any markings that would prohibit someone from participating in one of your installations? Or does anything go?

Not really. Someone with a leg or arm cast might be out of place, but we could get them into one or two set-ups if there isn’t too much movement. During the Ireland installation there were some disabled people whose friends helped carry them out of chairs.

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

Do you have any favorite shoot locations? It’s pretty cool to see the differences from locale to locale — Ireland vs. Caracas for example. Montauk was relatively simple as compared to the Dusseldorf Museum interior shots.

Mexico City I worked three years on, which was crazy, and three days before I had people show up en masse, the president decided he didn’t want me to do the work. That went on for a little while and finally someone had his ear, and we got permission from the “office” of the presidency to go ahead. That was nerve wracking, to have 20,000 people converging on the site [and no permission].

Photo credit: © Casey Kelbaugh

How long is the process, from obtaining permits to final prints? How many installations do you arrange in a year?

The exhibition of the works usually happens six months later. I get about six to eight works plus a video projection from an installation, with several different setups. Typically it’s been two to three [installations] a year. This year I’ve done two on my own because museum budgets are not what they used to be, including Moscow where I was trying to work with the museum of modern art, but there was no funding. So instead of stopping making art, I decided to do it on my own as I travel. I did one in Hawaii and then this one on Montauk. Hopefully next year I can organize a couple of larger works with museum backing.

One of Spencer Tunick’s main works this year is a monograph archiving his group installations outside of the United States since 1996. Publication is slated for late 2009; check in with his website for updates or to sign up for future installations. He is also scouting individual portraits for the Moscow project.