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Bruce Nauman Artworks

American Performance and Video Artist

Bruce Nauman Photo
Movements and Styles: Post-Minimalism, Process Art, Performance Art

Born: December 6, 1941 - Fort Wayne, Indiana

Artworks by Bruce Nauman

The below artworks are the most important by Bruce Nauman - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign) (1967)

Created in the studio Nauman established in an abandoned grocery store in San Francisco and modeled after the neon advertisement signs nearby, this seminal work acts as an advertisement of a different kind. Its colorful, circular text proclaims the words of the title: "The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths." It is characteristic of Nauman's early neon works, and typical of the tone of dry satire in much of his work. Speaking of high art in the materials of low culture and advertising, it sets up a clash that prompts us to question old assumptions about the purpose of art and artists. Might artists be ordinary salesmen, just like so many others?

South American Triangle (1981)

In this first of several "suspended chair" political sculptures, the chair that is commonly complicit in torture (i.e. an electric chair or interrogation chair) becomes the disoriented torture victim. As Nauman has said, "I thought of using a chair that would somehow become the figure: torturing a chair and hanging it up or strapping it down." Like similar hanging sculptures of Nauman's, it was intended to mount a critique of totalitarian regimes that then held power in South America and South Africa. It also refers to the space outside of the studio, as well as the fundamental structure of life: an atom with electrons encircling it, or the nucleus and membrane of cell, composed of raw and unforgiving materials.

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One Hundred Live and Die (1984)

Consisting of four columns containing 100 words relating life and death with different actions, emotions, and colors, this simultaneously poetic and vulgar barrage of lights and hues epitomizes the human experience. According to a complex algorithm, one phrase after another flashes on and off individually, followed by each column lit up, and culminating in the illumination of the entire piece, creating a visual symphony that characterizes Nauman's love of word play combined with social commentary, as well as his interest in color relationships.

Clown Torture (1987)

Video was absent from Nauman's work from 1973 until 1985, and this was one of the most significant pieces he made upon his return to the medium. Installed in an enclosed room, it consists of videotapes projected directly onto the two sidewalls and two pairs of stacked monitors on pedestals. Five sequences - Clown Taking a Shit; Pete and Repeat; No, No, No, No; Clown with Goldfish Bowl; and Clown with Water Bucket - play over each other repeatedly. This visual and auditory attack on the viewer is both disarming and nearly unbearable, and features some of Nauman's primary themes: surveillance, physical stress, interrogation, repetition, and word games. Nauman takes clowning to an entirely different level, highlighting the hidden horror in children's play.

Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer) (1989)

In 1988, after a hiatus of nearly twenty years, Nauman returned to casting found objects. He created a number of polyurethane foam animal models using taxidermy molds found in a New Mexico shop and used these as the basis for a series of works that resurrected an earlier theme - political violence and interrogation - and an earlier formal motif - the carousel of suspended sculptures. Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer) is one of the works that followed this initial series. Here he dismembers the models and rearranges their anatomy into monstrous form, creating a scene reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. In a related series, he used the models to create strange pyramids of animals, like sacrificial offerings.

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Rinde Head/Andrew Head (Plug to Nose) on Wax Base (1989)

Hollow wax head casts from two of Nauman's three models - Andrew, Rinde and Julie - meet here as a continuation of the artist's examination of the head and face in multiple media and the relationship between identity and facial expression, frozen in wax. The "plug" refers to the nose plug worn by live models to enable breathing while a cast is made. The strange posture of the models seems to reflect Nauman's interest in the difficulty of communication, alluding, perhaps, to old-fashioned expressions which rely on reference to the body, like "from hand to mouth."

Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001)

Some of Nauman's earliest work focused on him performing mundane, repetitive tasks in his studio. This recent piece marks a kind of return to the studio - though this time the artist is absent. He set up a series of infrared cameras to capture the activity at night as his cat walks about, mice scurry away, and moths buzz through the air. Then he edited the material down to six hours per projector. Nauman has always been skeptical of the notion of the artist as a creative genius, and this piece exposes the truth once again, depicting the studio not as a special place brought to life by the artist, but rather as a humdrum environment in which much occurs that passes by unnoticed by the artist. It is rather as if we were peering into the dark recesses of Nauman's creative mind and discovering that creativity is a torturously slow process in which there is as much waiting as working.

Related Artists and Major Works

Five Words in Orange Neon (1965)

Artist: Joseph Kosuth (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Five Words in Orange Neon is among the many language-based works Kosuth made using neon lights and a transformer, all of which were inspired by Wittgenstein's explorations of tautologies. In logic and linguistics, as established largely by Wittgenstein, a tautology is a statement of fundamental fact or truth which is unchangeable and irreversible, even if rephrased in any way possible. The meaning of the phrase is equated with how the words are visualized. In this case, they are shown with orange neon tubes shaped to form the words of the phrase. Kosuth plays with linguistic and verbal literalness by giving us a visual equivalent in the neon letters to what the text reads regardless of its form. As with his other Conceptual works of the 1960s, the idea is considered more important and fundamental than the visual or aesthetic content or expression of an artwork. It was a radical reconsideration of the importance of the visual in visual art.

Site (1964)

Artist: Robert Morris (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Dance has occupied an important aspect of Morris's oeuvre, involving the artist's creation of rudimentary, box-like props that anticipated his Minimalist objects and concern with viewer interaction. In the 1960s, the artist choreographed and performed a number of works for the New York-based collective known as the Judson Dance Theater, including Site. In the piece, first performed at the Surplus Dance Theater with the visual artist Carolee Schneemann, Morris, wearing a mask of his own face, systematically carried away four-by-eight foot sheets of plywood to reveal a nude Schneemann emulating Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863). Morris maneuvered the boards around the stage, until finally using them to again conceal Schneemann, all the while the sound of a jackhammer played repeatedly in the background. Site recalls Box with the Sound of Its Own Making through its use of an audio recording and focus on the banal (de)construction of a wooden structure, but here the situation is more complex and ambiguous; it is unclear whether the anonymous masked Morris or the nude Schneemann, whose pale skin and white backdrop discourage attention, is the focal point of the performance-an ambiguity that prompts the viewer to consider the relative importance of the artistic process versus the resulting artwork itself.

Target with Four Faces (1955)

Artist: Jasper Johns (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

In this work, Johns effectively merged painting and sculpture while wittily engaging the viewer with "things which are seen and not looked at." As in Flag, Johns relied upon newspaper and fabric dipped in encaustic to build the intricately textured surface of the painting. However, he also made plaster casts of only the lower half of a female model's face over four successive months, and fixed these out of order in a hinged, wooden box that he attached to the top of the canvas. By incorporating the sculptural elements in the same space as the painting, Johns emphasized the "objecthood" of the painting, as Rauschenberg did in his "combine paintings" of the late 1950s. This merging of mediums reinforced the three-dimensional object-ness of the paintings and was the Neo-Dada response to the recent progression of abstraction away from representation to an ever more reduced imagery that merely reiterated the surface of the canvas.

Beyond the material surface of the work, the concentric circles of the target imply the acts of seeing and taking aim. However, Johns excluded the model's eyes from the plaster faces, and thus thwarted any exchange of gazes between the viewer and the faces in the work. This forced the viewer to examine the interactions between the painted target and the plaster faces. Viewed through the lens of the Cold War era, the seemingly benign images can imply the targeting of the anonymous masses by global political powers as well as by corporate advertising and the mass media. Conversely, contemporary viewers might read the anonymity of the Internet in the work. Every individual's interpretation is shaped by his or her own history and knowledge. As part of his continued exploration of how people see the world around them, Johns intentionally chose the vague symbols of the target and a nondescript human face to solicit multiple, varied readings of this elusive work that straddles two historically distinct mediums.

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