At a time when many people want more for less, a new art show in Tampa is out to prove the most basic subject — the naked human body — can be the most provocative.
Nude Nite runs tonight and Saturday in an Ybor City warehouse converted into a den of sensual art, both living and nonliving.
The show, which opened Thursday, features 80 artists devoted to body beautiful in the buff. Besides nude paintings and photographs, the event will have body painting, naked sushi models and live sketching of nude models. Hourly burlesque shows will get sexier as the nights progress.
Promoter Kelly Stevens created Nude Nite in 1997 in Orlando to give artists and patrons a unique art-show experience. "The idea was to create a theme that would get people out,'' she said. "People don't come out for landscapes. There's nothing sexy about landscapes.''
A mother of three and former debutante from Alabama, Stevens, 38, describes the show as spontaneous, liberating and tasteful. Each painting tells a story — and a secret that otherwise might stay hidden.
Nude Nite has become one of Orlando's largest and most popular art shows, drawing everyone from housewives to politicians to goths. This year's show Feb. 12 to 14 attracted 3,500 people.
More than an art show, the event is considered an "art happening'' with live music, wine and beer, naughty nuns and chocolate nipple casting. Each show incorporates different elements of surprise. A portion of the proceeds goes toward breast cancer awareness and education.
Invariably, every year a guest or two asks if they can come in their birthday suit. The answer: No.
"We leave that to the models,'' Stevens said. "They are professionals. They understand how to perform.''
Stevens expanded Nude Nite to Tampa this year because she felt a demand for edgier art. Most of the artists are local. "I think nude art is an underserved market,'' she said. "But it's the most natural market. It's the original art inspiration.''
Some of the exhibitors are part-time or experimental artists. Due to the super-erotic nature of their work, you probably won't see them at Gasparilla and other mainstream art festivals.
David Romeo of Lutz is a computer programmer who creates photosculptures, such as Danabow, a wooden bow laminated with photographs of a naked woman.
After displaying his work mostly at private parties, Romeo decided to enter Nude Nite in Orlando and Tampa. He liked the event's diversity and figured his art would not offend. "There's a full range of things going on and enough variety that it appeals to everyone,'' he said. "Some of the art was great and some I thought, 'Why is it here?' ''
At 70, Ed Meredith may be the oldest exhibitor at Tampa's show. A retired commercial photographer from New York City, he used to sell his nude paintings and drawings on the streets but has found a limited market locally. People prefer decorative art over suggestive art.
Meredith has participated in the last three Nude Nites in Orlando and looks forward to Tampa's first show. He'll have two pieces on display, including a drawing of an aboriginal couple in a copulation dance.
It's edgy, erotic and even primal, just like the show itself.
"Nude Nite is a celebration of the human form and all the things it evokes,'' he said. "After all, what else do we have?''