TEL AVIV (Reuters Life!) - Naked crowds in public places have made American photographer Spencer Tunick world famous, but his plan for an installation featuring hundreds of nude Israelis floating in the Dead Sea has hit money problems.
His photographs of hundreds of naked men and women of "all religions, shapes and sizes" in locations such as the Sydney Opera House and Switzerland's Aletsch Glacier have won critical acclaim and attracted fans worldwide.
"It's very insignificant money," the artist told a Tel Aviv news conference. "But it's the naked body in a public space," he said, hinting at disapproval of his art in the Jewish state.
Tunick and his eight assistants need $60,000 to pay the logistics costs of an installation and photo shoot in September or October at the lowest point on Earth, where the Dead Sea is drying up at the rate of one meter (three feet) a year.
The artist, who is Jewish, has not yet decided what his Dead Sea installation will feature. He would like to show his nude multitude floating in the extreme buoyancy of the ultra-saline water, and covered in its famous health-giving black mud.
But a year of fund-raising by Tunick's friend and Israel-based associate Ari Fruchter, together with the Tel Aviv consultancy Ben Or, has managed to raise only $45,000.
With 25 days to go to their deadline, the team are calling for donations on Tunick's kickstarter.com site (www.kck.st/).
Neither Tunick nor his Israeli associates were able to explain why it was so hard to raise the money.
"You just don't get a clear answer," Fruchter said.
But a representative of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party -- a member of the ruling coalition -- made it plain his constituents were categorically opposed to the art proposal.
"This is artistic beastliness," veteran Shas lawmaker Nissim Zeev told Israeli television. "This corrupter must be prevented from carrying out this disgraceful display."
"We will do everything to ensure that this display does not happen in the Land of Israel -- forever," he added.
On the bright side, Fruchter said some 700 Israeli students had signed up to "get naked in order to participate" and a further 2,000 people of all ages had expressed interest in joining what Tunick calls a unique form of performance art.
Tunick, a frequent visitor to Israel, wants to juxtapose the vulnerability of the naked body with the man-made environmental damage being inflicted on the Dead Sea, whose Jordan River water source has been diverted for agri-business.
The aim is to shoot the installation before November, when people all over the planet will be able to vote by internet to choose the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Dead Sea is on the short-list.
Tunick acknowledges that combining nakedness, vulnerability and Jewishness could raise bad memories for those who may inevitably associate it with the Nazi Holocaust death camps.
But with the naked bodies in his work, he said, "you know they're alive and they can walk away."
Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton