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Artist Spencer Tunick Puts "Buff" Back in Buffalo

By Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press

Buffalo, NY – They came. They saw. They bared all.

And in the end, the 1,826 people who shed their clothes for Spencer Tunick Sunday were a work of art.

With Tunick issuing commands through a megaphone, nude bodies of every age, shape, size, skin tone and fitness level formed sculptures in the concourse of a dilapidated former train station, standing up, lying down, leaning sideways on their knees.

Tunick has been doing such nude assemblages -- he calls them temporary site-related installations -- around the world since 1992. The Brooklyn artist chose Buffalo's decaying Central Terminal, with its broken windows and graffittied walls, as a juxtaposition to an earlier work at New York's pristine Grand Central Terminal, with a plan to display photographs of the two side by side.

"I think what the bodies did was bring some hope to the future," said Tunick, who emerged from the three-hour installation with blood webbing his right forearm from a gash left by broken glass.

For the volunteers, being part of Tunick's art meant leaving their inhibitions in a pile of clothing outside and enduring a series of sometimes uncomfortable positions on a cold and dusty tile floor, cameras documenting every move.

"Get on your knees, bend forward and curl up in a ball," Tunick instructed. "Be quiet please. Head down. Head further down!"

"Very good. It's very good. Don't move," he said.

"When he had us all leaning on our knees, that was getting a bit painful," volunteer Joe Giovenso said after. "I don't think I could have held that much longer."

But "this was an opportunity to be part of someone else's work," said Giovenso, a television producer.

Giovenso, at age 51, found himself in like company. There were more over-50 participants than under-50, said Tunick.

"I thought that was fascinating," the artist said. "The older people in Buffalo are just as progressive as the younger people -- maybe more."

Lit by sunlight sneaking through broken windows, volunteers walked into the cavernous terminal en masse, first the women with men joining in later. Parents stood side-by-side with grown children, joined by teams of siblings, friends, couples and mothers and babies. Bodies tattooed and tanned, smooth and wrinkled were welcomed -- although those with tan lines were banished to the back.

"It was liberating," said Tasha Beaudoin, 34, who traveled from Malibu, Calif., with her friend Suzanne Donias, 34, of Los Angeles, just to participate. Each woman brought her baby.

"They probably won't like it when they're 13, but when they're 30 they'll think it's cool," Beaudoin said of her 10-month-old son, Laine, and Donias' 11-month-old daughter, Helena.

"I hope she thinks it's as wonderful as I do," said Donias. "Your body's nothing to be ashamed of and anyone who's comfortable in their skin is confident. You can't buy that. You can't teach that."

For University at Buffalo dental student Aaron Rosen, the experience turned into a lesson in social studies when he ran into a professor. Although students must call doctors by their titles, first names were used Sunday.

"Today, I thought it just seemed appropriate," Rosen said.

When the two return to class?

"I think we will be mature and we'll laugh about it," he predicted.

Scott Steinbrenner, 38, of Tonawanda, and his 46-year-old sister, Ronni Littleton of San Antonio, Texas, each wanted to participate -- but on different sides of the concourse.

"We're going to meet back at the truck," laughed Littleton as they made their way to the registration tables.

Tunick said each volunteer will receive an 8-by-10 print of the installation as a thank you.

Tunick's work is largely acclaimed but sometimes draws resistance. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which invited him, said it received only two or three complaints.