This article tells the stories of architect Adolf Loos and cabaret/film icon Josephine Baker in order to trace the philosophic intimacy between modernist preoccupation with the nude surface and the staging of exposed, racialized skin in the early twentieth century. The racial or colonial fetish that haunts the making of modern architectural theory and the celebrity of Baker become the site of critical possibility through which we can track the conjoined stories of “modern nudity” (as stylized purity) and “primitive nakedness” (as material embodiment.) Tracking the charged concepts of “cover” and “lack” that traverse and structure diverse fields of inquiry from psychoanalysis to architectural theory to dance history to film criticism, this paper argues that there is a profound nostalgia, rather than refutation, between the clean nudity of modern objects and the ornate nakedness of so-called primitive subjects.

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