Collections> Browse Bruce Nauman

Collections> Browse Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman
Holdings (39)
1 multiple, 14 videotapes/videodiscs, 17 edition prints/proofs, 2 drawings, 5 books

Wikipedia About Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941) is a contemporary American artist. His practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking, and performance. Nauman lives near Galisteo, New Mexico. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Bruce Nauman, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

If one wanted to argue that the major artistic innovations and breakthroughs in the second half of the twentieth century happened through sculpture, Bruce Nauman would be one of a small handful of artists on which to base the argument. Confronted with the question of what to do in the studio after he graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1966, Nauman made the following assumption: “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.”1 From this premise he has expanded the field of sculptural practice through confrontations with language (spoken, shouted, or written), with dance and performance, with film and video, with photography, and with architectural environments. He gives value to time and process.

Because his work resists categorization, it might be more convenient to define where Nauman does not stand, rather than where he does. He did not participate in Pop Art, he does not belong to Funk Art, he does not conform to Minimalism, he is not associated with Fluxus, he cannot be contained by the mantle of Body Art, and he demonstrates too much freedom to match the definition of Conceptual Art. Defying canonical definitions, he encompasses and overcomes all of them, showing less interest in what art is than in what art could be.

Since his earliest experimentation with painting and sculpture in the mid-1960s, Nauman has developed a complex body of work built on the assimilation and the digestion of models coming from a diversity of fields and disciplines. Though Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns found their rightful places in his genealogy, Nauman claims Man Ray as the artist who—through the versatility of his activities and his radical denigration of style—freed him to open the practice of sculpture to a wide range of media across the disciplines.

Programmatically, Nauman imbibed Samuel Beckett’s solipsistic sense of the absurd, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophical investigations of meaning and representation through the logic of language, and V. S. Naipaul’s interpretation and denunciation of sociohistorical rage and grievance. From investigations of the individual body and its phenomenological perception, Nauman’s work has increasingly addressed the body politic and its awareness. From a depiction of bodily functions to the experience of solitude, from psychology to profanity, from self-violence and humiliation to political torture and domination, Nauman’s program has never ceased to capture primary emotions; avoiding the anecdote, he reaches the universality of an open work.

From his protean output, the Walker Art Center, in collecting his work, has focused on the moving-image genre in its diversity. Hence, a grouping of early videos provides a broad understanding of Nauman’s experimentation with the potential of moving images. The fifteen or so films and videos that he produced in the late 1960s testify to both his recurring interest in representation of the body and his awareness of the avant-garde dance and music scenes. In front of a stationary camera set in the studio, he performed mundane and often obsessive activities, such as walking (Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967–1968), bouncing (Bouncing in a Corner No. 1, 1968), pinching himself (Pinchneck, 1968), torturing himself (Pulling Mouth, 1969), or frantically playing an instrument he was unfamiliar with (Violin Tuned D.E.A.D., 1970).

Exploring physical awareness and limitation, these performances, during which the camera is the audience’s proxy, use redundancy and duration to exhaust and then liberate the body. His research, based on repetition and everyday gestures and behaviors, paralleled the work developed in the early 1960s in New York by the Judson Dance Theater (its movement-research performances) and choreographer Meredith Monk, whom he met in 1968. Through his friendship with Monk, his collaboration with Merce Cunningham, and his acquaintance with musicians Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, Nauman became aligned with a generation of artists who attempted to apply to their own practices the methodology of chance, the consideration of everyday sounds and gestures that John Cage employed in his own art and way of life.

When not questioning the status of the “artwork” itself, Nauman challenged the concept of the artist as an author. In Art Make-Up (1967–1968), he applies different colors of makeup (white, pink, green, black) to his face and upper body, successively erasing his identity, thus making the author more and more invisible, as Alain Robbe-Grillet did when he, with the other protagonists of the Nouveau Roman, challenged the traditional structure of the novel. Knowing the political context of the moment, it is difficult not to see in this portrait of the artist as a clown2 an echo of Frantz Fanon’s anticolonial, anti-xenophobic book Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks).3

With Poke in the Eye/Nose/Ear 3/8/94 Edit (1994), Nauman continued to investigate intimate behaviors. A large video projection shows a slow-motion image of the artist poking his finger into his eye, nose, and ear. The nature of the image and its weird relationship to “real” time alter its narrative quality. It also stresses the thin line between pleasure and pain, as well as increases the discomforting spectacle of a finger poking into bodily orifices. These orifices are the conduits for sensible and cerebral perception, which Nauman attempts to awaken from a passive lethargy.

Challenging perception through time reaches an extreme degree in MAPPING THE STUDIO II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) All Action Edit (2001). The work consists of seven large video projections. The footage was shot at night over several months in 2000. Nauman installed seven infrared video cameras at different locations in his New Mexico studio and recorded the remnants of past works, tools, crates, detritus, and the night stillness interrupted by mice, insects, cats, noises from trains, horses, weather, and coyotes. From this databank of images—echoing his 1966 statement that “whatever I was doing in the studio must be art”—he produced several generations of works.4 In the “All Action Edit,” Nauman has edited the seven different tapes to only incidental, visual, and sound disturbances. The color of the images alternates from red to green to blue and back to red. The running time of each projection varies, and the images flip left to right or right to left and/or upside down.

With its meditative though uncanny relation to space and time, MAPPING THE STUDIO II crystallizes many elements that constitute Nauman’s syntax, from his critical relationship to duration in film that he inaugurated in 1966 with Fishing for Asian Carp5 to his interest in the technology of surveillance that became central to his work in the early 1980s. Also, as the subtitle suggests, tribute is made to Cage and his inclusion of chance, silence, and every single component of life in the making of his work.6

Meanwhile, by projecting the images on the walls all around the audience, Nauman has inverted our perceptual conventions. Whether in a museum, in a stadium, or in a movie theater, what we normally experience is frontal and disconnected from the work or the event. With MAPPING THE STUDIO II, the audience is at the center, surrounded by an oppressive panoply of media, controlled by the pace the artist has inflicted on the images. Whether an exercise in acute perception, absolute meditative escapism, or intense frustration, Nauman keeps it open. As with many of his works, MAPPING THE STUDIO II’s conciseness leaves us wanting—not more, not less, just wanting—triggering our desire to be fully alive, aware.

  1. Quoted in Ian Wallace and Russell Keziere, “Bruce Nauman Interviewed,” Vanguard (Canada) 8, no. 1 (February 1979): 18.

  2. The clown is recurrent in Nauman’s cast of characters, appearing in such works as the neon sculpture Mean Clown Welcome (1985), the drawing Clown with Video Surveillance (1986), and the video Clown Torture (1987).

  3. Frantz Fanon, Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Paris: Edition de Seuil, 1952); Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Weidenfield, 1967).

  4. To date, Nauman has created four unique installations and two editioned works from the same source footage, all dated 2001. The unique works are MAPPING THE STUDIO I (Fat Chance John Cage); MAPPING THE STUDIO I (Fat Chance John Cage) All Action Edit; MAPPING THE STUDIO II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage); and the Walker’s work. The single DVD projections Office Edit I (Fat Chance John Cage) Mapping the Studio and Office Edit II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) Mapping the Studio were issued in editions of six.

  5. Nauman filmed painter William Allan in the titular activity. The film lasts until a fish is caught: 2 minutes, 44 seconds.

  6. Nauman discussed the subtitle of this piece: “‘Fat Chance,’ which I think is just an interesting saying, refers to a response to an invitation to be involved in an exhibition. Some time ago Anthony d’Offay [Gallery] was going to do a show of John Cage’s scores, which are often very beautiful. He also wanted to show work by artists who were interested in or influenced by Cage. So he asked if I would send him something related. Cage was an important influence for me, especially his writings. So I sent d’Offay a fax that said FAT CHANCE JOHN CAGE. D’Offay thought it was a refusal to participate. I thought it was the work.” From “A Thousand Words: Bruce Nauman Talks about Mapping the Studio,” Artforum 40, no. 7 (March 2002): 121.

Vergne, Philippe. “Bruce Nauman.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center