Royal Academy visitors are invited to brush past naked man and woman in recreation of 1977 performance artwork

Phoebe Southworth
A 2010 replication of Marina Abramović's Imponderabilia, which will be exhibited at the Royal Academy next year - AP

Eyebrows were raised in 1977 when a pair of naked performance artists stood inches apart at the entrance of a gallery in Italy, leaving just a tiny gap for visitors to squeeze through.

Now it has been revealed that Marina Abramović's jaw-dropping creation, Imponderabilia, will be replicated at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) next year - the first time a live nude work of art has been exhibited in the main galleries.

The Serbian artist's original performance more than forty years ago was with her then boyfriend and fellow artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen at the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna in the Italian city of Bologna.

Passersby were unaware that they were being filmed by a hidden camera and their reactions would form part of the art work.

Many were unsure which naked body to face; some squeezed past as quickly as possible; others avoided going through altogether.

The brave display will be recreated by two young artists at the RA between September 26 and December 8, 2020.

In a test of composure and physical stamina, they will keep in position for up to three hours in the doorway between two adjoining gallery spaces.

Visitors less eager to get up close and personal with two strangers will have the option of walking around the naked duo.

Abramović and her then boyfriend and fellow artist stood inches apart at the entrance of the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna in the Italian city of Bologna in 1977 Credit: Will Oliver/AFP

Nudity has only featured in two performances in the RA's history, and on both occasions in the less visible Burlington Gardens.

In 2009, Spartacus Chetwynd put on one of her risqué carnivalesque art shows, 'Helmut Newton's Ladies Evening'.

In 2012, Eddie Peake exhibited his work 'Touch' - a naked five-a-side football match in which teams were only differentiated by the colour of their socks.

It was intended to illustrate the inherent eroticism of contact sports.

This is the first time a naked performance will take place in the RA's main galleries, where hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through every year.

The Royal Academy in Mayfair, west London Credit: David Rose/David Rose

Abramović is known as the controversial grandmother of performance art.

Andrea Tarsia, head of exhibitions, said she was a "pioneering" artist who has "consistently tested the limits of her own mental and physical endurance".

He said of Imponderabilia: "This simple gesture proposed a confrontation with nakedness, gender, sexuality and desire."

Abramović will be in London throughout the exhibition but the RA said her presence at the exhibition is "yet to be determined" - seemingly leaving the door open for her to participate in the nude display.

Tim Marlow, the RA's artistic director, said: "She's 74 years old - her main concern is about how her work will be re-performed, as theatre and music is. But never say never with Marina.

"Will she do exactly what she wants and not take any notice of anything we say to her? Almost certainly."