ONCE, RENDERINGS of the male nude were viewed as gestures of glorification, bestowals of godlike status. Take Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres's 1853 The Apotheosis of Napoleon, which portrays a naked Mr. Bonaparte ascending to heaven. Ingres is the favorite painter of highly regarded New York artist Kurt Kauper, who figured the heroes of his youth deserved the same treatment. The result: Everybody Knew That Canadians Were the Best Hockey Players, an exhibit at New York's Deitch Project gallery featuring Kauper's hockey art—most notably seven-foot nude portraits of Bruins greats Bobby Orr (walking, and in a hockey stop pose) and Derek Sanderson (at his locker). "I've gotten e-mails from people who aren't too happy," says Kauper, 41, who also painted the late goalie Jacques Plante (top) based on an old hockey card. "The word demeaning was used. But I was a huge Bobby Orr fan." The likenesses are stunning, though Kauper has never met either player. "He has poetic license," Sanderson, who hasn't seen the paintings, told The Boston Globe. "I just hope he's a good artist."