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From Eleven Color Photographs, 1970. Chromogenic print, 20 1/16 × 23 15/16 in. (50.96 × 60.8 cm). Edition no. 7/8. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 70.50.9


Bruce Nauman, Self Portrait as a Fountain 1966-67

Over the last four decades, American artist Bruce Nauman has been hugely influential on artists all around the world. The vast range of media that many artists work in now can be tracked back to his aggressive installations, neons, sound pieces, videos and performances. Their willingness to make a viewer flinch can also be traced to him. That’s made Nauman a favorite of many of the world’s top curators, critics and collectors. Bruce Nauman was born on December 6, 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a renowned contemporary American artist. Ever since the early 1970s Nauman has been recognized as one of the most innovative and provocative of America’s contemporary artists. Aside from his art, Nauman studied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then art with William T. Wiley along with Robert Arneson at the University of California, Davis. He was the assistant to Wayne Thiebaud and then in 1966 became a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute. In late 1968 he met up with the singer and performance artist Meredith Monk and then signed with the dealer Leo Castelli. In 1979 Nauman, along with his wife, painter Susan Rothenberg, moved to New Mexico where they continue to live and create art today.

Bruce Nauman, My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon 1968

His studio process, then and now, was to read and think until an idea took hold of him. He reread Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations,” and John Cage’s writings on chance and contingency, both of which he had discovered in college, and he devoured Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays. “I was trying to understand what art is and what artists do, “he told me, “and a lot of that, for me, seemed to involve watching and waiting to see what would happen. When I’m desperate enough just to do anything, even if it seems completely stupid, it’s such a relief.” In those days, he hoped that sooner or later he’d figure out how to make art without such a struggle, but it never happened.

Bruce Nauman, Human/Need/Desire 1983

Words relating to human want light up in a pulsing cycle, continually evoking and replacing meaning. By offering words and taking them away, this work disrupts viewers’ habits of perception. Nauman believes that language is “a very powerful tool”; he was inspired to use neon tubing because of the convincing messages and hypnotic aura of neon advertisements. Here, with irony, the artist uses this flashing commercial medium—with all its wires exposed—to address fundamental elements of human experience.

Bruce Nauman, Double Poke in the Eye, II 1985

Drypoint with aquatint 16 3/4 x 19 1/2 in. / 42.6 x 49.5 cm. Edition of 38

Bruce Nauman, Untitled (hands) 1990-91

Bruce Nauman, Five Pink Heads in the Corner 1992 The Process art has been entitled as a creative movement in the US and Europe since the mid-1960s. It can trace some of its roots back to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. The use of serendipity employed can be tied in with Dada. The Guggenheim Museum states: Process artists were involved in issues attendant to the body, random occurrences, improvisation, and the liberating qualities of nontraditional materials such as wax, felt, and latex. Using these, they created eccentric forms in erratic or irregular arrangements produced by actions such as cutting, hanging, and dropping, or organic processes such as growth, condensation, freezing, or decomposition.

Working in the diverse mediums of sculpture, video, film, printmaking, performance, and installation, Nauman concentrates less on the development of a characteristic style and more on the way in which a process or activity can transform or become a work of art. The process is the actual art. Process art is an artistic movement and world view where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art, is not the principal focus. The ‘process’ in process art refers to the process of the formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating,

asociation, and pattering. Process art is concerned with the physical act of actually doing, the seeing of art as a pure huan expression. Process art often entails an inherent motivation, rationale, and intentionality. Therefore, the art is viewed as a creative journey or process, not a tangible piece that is easily hung on a wall of a gallery.

The ephemeral qualities and insubstantiality of materials was often showcased and highlighted in the works. Environmental art and the Process art movement are in direct relation. Process artists engage the primacy of organic systems, using perishable, insubstantial, and transitory materials such as dead rabbits, steam, fat, ice, cereal, sawdust, and grass. The materials are often left exposed to natural forces: gravity, time, weather, temperature, etc. The Process art movement has precedent in indigenous rites, shamanic and religious rituals, and many different cultural forms. Some such acts include: sandpainting, sun dance, and the Tea ceremony are fundamentally related pursuits.

Bruce Nauman, 100 Live and Die 1984

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths 1967

Much of Nauman’s work is characterized by a deep interest in language, often presenting itself in a somewhat playful and mischievous manner. Two good examples of this would be the neon Run From FearFun From Rear, or the photograph Bound To Fail, which literalizes the title phrase and shows the artist’s arms tied behind his back. These though in fact are very serious concerns at the heart of Nauman’s practice and works. He seems to be fascinated by the nature of communication and language’s inherent problems,

as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols. Just like Nauman’s first works from the second half of the ‘60s, pointed at making the viewer both an actor and an observer of the action (conscious of an experience that hasn’t to do just with the idea of the space, rather with its sensation), the exhibition proposes itself as an experience and aims to question itself as if it were a work of neon, fiberglass, film, language, action or photography. Nauman’s interest lies in the human being as a body, able to understand the logics of the space that surrounds him, turning the subject into objectivity. Nauman seems to examine life in all its gory details, mapping the human link between life and death. The text from an early neon work proclaims: “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” Whether or not we—or even Nauman—agree with this statement, the underlying subtext of the piece emphasizes the way in which the audience, artist, and culture at large are involved in the resonance a work of art will ultimately have.

Bruce Nauman, Please Pay Attention Please 1965-2001 “What I was doing, and what I am going to do and what most of us probably do, is to use the tension between what you tell and what you don’t tell as part of the work. What is given and what is withheld become the work.”

Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage) 2001 (installation view)

Nauman @ MoMA  

- poster and catalog for ficticous exhibition of said artist.

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