Are We Prudes? Top 5 Naked Statues, Past and Present

In June, an artist in Paulden, Ariz. was threatened with a $1,000 fine unless he agreed to remove the nine-foot-tall naked gargoyle he’d installed in his backyard. In Coalville, Utah, concerned residents have taken it upon themselves to cover up a nude statue of a dancer. Chill out, residents of small-town America: Humans started sculpting the naked human form thousands of years before we figured out how to make useful things like axes and fish hooks. Priorities, people, priorities.

Are we prudes?

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In June, an artist in Paulden, Ariz. was threatened with a $1,000 fine unless he agreed to remove the nine-foot-tall naked gargoyle he’d installed in his backyard. In Coalville, Utah, concerned residents have taken it upon themselves to cover up a nude statue of a dancer. Chill out, residents of small-town America: Humans started sculpting the naked human form thousands of years before we figured out how to make useful things like axes and fish hooks. Priorities, people, priorities.

Oldest: The Venus of Hohle Fels (Schelklingen, Germany)

This figurine may stand barely three inches high, but the Venus of Hohle Fels, sculpted from woolly mammoth tusk around 40,000 years ago, constitutes some of our earliest evidence of human artistic and cognitive ability.

Most quirky: Manneken Pis (Brussels)

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One of the most famous landmarks in the European capital, the Mannekin Pis ("Little Man Pee") has been urinating into a fountain for nearly 400 years. The toddler’s outfit is changed several times per week; some of my favorites are his astronaut costume, his Elvis Presley get-up and his suit of condoms (which he dons for World Aids Day).

Most defaced: The Little Mermaid (Copenhagen)

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This nude fish-woman, based on a character from a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, has become a popular target for vandals, from political activists to pranksters. In 1964, she was beheaded by Jorgen Nash. Twenty years later, her right arm was mysteriously sawed off—only to be returned two days later. In 2008, a dildo was attached to her hand in honor of International Women’s Day.

Most Oomph: Botero sculptures at the Time Warner Center (New York)

Twelve-foot tall, misshapen, and butt-naked: Visitors to one of the busiest shopping centers in New York have gotten used to being greeted by Botero’s giant Adam and Eve. And they seem to like it: Poor Adam has attracted so many gropers that the patina on his… area has worn off, leaving it a different color than the rest of his body.

Most controversial: Artemision Bronze (Athens)

The Artemision Bronze isn’t controversial because it’s offensive; no, the ancient Greek sculpture is the subject of a heated debate over whether it represents Zeus, the king of the Gods, or Poseidon, the god of the Sea. What did his right hand once clasp—a thunderbolt (Zeus) or a trident (Poseidon)? We may never know. (I’m not losing any sleep over it, though.)