First presented by Cartier in 2003 in Singapore, “Tainted Perfection” was David Tan’s fifth solo exhibition. It was said to be groundbreaking and the first nude photography exhibition in Singapore. Tan’s most recent exhibition of photographs from this series was with Yang Gallery in November 2019 in Singapore.
The human body may be regarded as the purest and most perfect aesthetic form, or one can study it as a socially constituted and situated object. But to fully appreciate the art of the human body, one must understand the distinction between the naked and the nude. Naked is a reference to the unclothed state, and nude refers to the affirmation of the body as a subject in its own right. For most of the 18th and 19th century, the naked or near-naked human body was the subject of Renaissance paintings and sculptures. Classical Greece bequeathed to the Western world a tradition in which the body mattered in its own right, as an emblem and incorporation of divine beauty, strength and harmony. The perfect human body is seen to be a bond between the gods and men. Indeed most bodies in reality do not conform to the Greek ideal, or even modern society’s ideal of what beauty is. But there exists a certain objective and aesthetic standard of an ideal – or perfect – body.
Puritanical values still hold sway in ostensibly liberal and globalised communities; and much of contemporary society is ashamed of the naked and the nude. There appears to be a social and psychological “taint” associated with the exposed body. However, there is a difference between an aesthetic representation of the nude – defined as art – and an erotic depiction – commonly known as pornography. Indeed the line separating art from pornography is a thin one. One often uses terms like “self-transcendence” and “erotic numbness” to differentiate what is art from what is not.
“Tainted Perfection” intellectualises the human body and utilises the sculptural beauty of line and texture to prevail over the sexual seductiveness of physique, in an attempt to de-eroticise the nude form. In the words of George Santayana, the body – tainted by a misconceived prejudice against its nudity – attains an “aesthetic dignity”.