(Reuters) - Vienna's Leopold Museum will welcome naked viewers from the public in an after-hours showing of its controversial and popular exhibit "Naked Men", a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The Leopold, known for its unrivalled collection of works by Austrian artist Egon Schiele, was inspired to invite the public to get naked after an inquiry from a group of German nudists.
"There was a request by an association from Germany for a nude guided tour," the spokesman said. "We thought about it, and decided it would be a good idea to have a special nude viewing open to the public."
But he dissuaded any members of the public from dropping by just to gawk at the visiting nudists.
"If you are not a nudist you are welcome to come clothed. But we don't want voyeurs so it's better not to be clothed."
The exhibition, which has been extended to run until March 4, is designed to show the diverse and changing depictions of male nudity in art history.
Among its exhibits is a grotesque self-portrait by Schiele, and a photograph called "Vive La France" of three men of different races wearing nothing but blue, white and red socks and soccer boots.
Together with a special exhibition to commemorate the 150th birthday of Viennese painter Gustav Klimt, "Naked Men" helped boost visitor numbers at the Leopold by 17 percent to more than 364,000 last year.
"We noticed a large increase in young people attending the museum, about 10 percent more," said the spokesman. "Having both "Naked Men" and "Klimt: Up Close and Personal" brought a lot of people in this past year."
A German museum-goer was even inspired to imitate the art and strip naked while walking around the exhibition in December. Visitors appeared undisturbed, assuming he belonged to the show.
However, "Naked Men" has caused controversy among more conservative elements of Austrian society.
In October, the Leopold bowed to pressure and covered up the genitalia of the three nude male soccer players used on large publicity posters around the city after they caused outrage among parents and religious groups.
"Their reaction is not a part of liberal thinking in the 21st century," the spokesman said.
"This is an unprecedented exhibition of male nudity here in Austria, something no other country has done," he added. "Hopefully it will be replicated around the world."
(Reporting By Derek Brooks)