More than 7,000 people gathered at daybreak Sunday and shed their clothes in the morning chill to take part in artist Spencer Tunick's largest work yet — an installation featuring a sea of nude bodies covering a central Barcelona avenue.
The New York native has achieved worldwide renown for his work, which often features large numbers of nude people posing in urban settings. Though he refers to his art as "temporary site-related installations," he is best known for the photographs he takes of these events.
"I want people to feel uncomfortable that they've demonized the body," Tunick said in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before staging his Barcelona installation. "I want them to feel uncomfortable at first and then realize it's just skin. Yes, the body can be a shape."
He called the Barcelona installation a great visual success. "I created a river of bodies like I've never made before. It was an amazing pink and tan carpet."
Before sunrise, people began arriving at Avenida de la Reina Maria Cristina, a broad thoroughfare lined with fountains. They undressed in a nearby building and were naked for more than an hour as Tunick had them pose four ways: standing, lying down, curled up in balls and hugging each other.
"For me this represents the fragility of the body," said Joan Alexandre Betriu, 53, a participant who called it a "vital, aesthetic and moral" event.
Irene Mohedano, 34, posed with her 5-month old daughter Irene. "This is a work of art," she said. "It may be my only chance to pose for something like this, so I have to take advantage of it."
Tunick said he uses people as raw materials to change perception of space. "I'm using the body as a substance, an abstraction. If the body is nude in front of a background, it creates a new meaning for the background. It makes you think about the background in a different way."
Barcelona joins London, Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Santiago and many other European and South American cities in hosting Tunick.
Sunday's spectacle was his largest yet. Until now his grandest project of this type was an installation involving 4,500 nude people in Melbourne, Australia in 2001.
"In the U.S. they consider the body a crime," said the artist, who has been arrested five times in New York City for working with nudes in public. "In other countries it's celebrated as something special."
Barcelona was particularly accepting of his work, Tunick said, citing praise from Mayor Joan Clos.
Though Tunick insists his work is far removed from commercial nude photography, he recognizes that the fact that he works with nude bodies is a major factor in his success.
"My work is about form, the shape of the body. I'm not creating a provocative photo, I'm saying this is the body you shower with, the body you go to sleep with," he said.
"I've gotten a lot of global recognition because I'm making compelling work that's doing something new with the body. I'm bringing the bodies closer together as substance."