Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman is listed on Artfacts as one of the three most important artists alive today.  Given the millions of brilliant innovative artists around how can you come up with a list like that, and certainly you cannot anticipate how the future will reassess the present.   I wonder what Bruce Nauman would make of such a statement, given his way with words and human silliness, probably some brilliant ironic art work sending up the hole idea.

 I have just been reading a book about Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Tate Modern 5 years ago titled ‘Raw Materials’.  He uses an enormous variety of materials including all kinds of physical materials, electric and electronic materials, and space and sound and time.. nothing is out of bounds.  In fact in the book he says of sculpture “there aren’t a lot of limitations you don’t impose yourself..The biggest problem is deciding what not to use, and then not using too much of what you do.  It seems to revolve around how much to give and how much not to give.  I’m interested in the tension between these two decisions – using a little bit of a lot of things”.. Nauman  

I am fascinated by the questions and thinking he provokes, about the nature of the inner psyche and how we communicate, or fail to do so: in his work various portrayals of  humans attempting to communicate have more in common with planets colliding than meaningful dialogue.  Below is a photo of his sculpture ‘World Peace’ 1996.  In this piece five monitors are set in a circle with each one projecting a head talking to the others repeating various phrases around the theme of “I’ll talk/You’ll listen, you’ll talk/I’ll listen” but of course they are all talking and no-one is listening.  In the analysis in the book the title World Peace is described as ‘an ironic nod to the global-political misunderstanding between leaders of nations and the often-evoked maxim made famous in Rosenberg’s 1967 film Cool Hand Luke: “What we Have here is a Failure to Communicate”,’ (Appings essay Metacommunicator)


One of the first works ever made by Nauman in 1967 was the The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths   written in a spiral neon sign and hung in a shop window where such signs were common but generally advertising alcoholic drinks.  Nauman’s explanation for this work was “I was just wondering out loud.  I needed to see it visually to see if I believed it. … When you are starting out, you are naturally asking a lot of questions, and some of them are very tough.  The things that you can’t answer are sometimes the things you should be putting out there.”  The further twist in this work for me comes in Appings statement that this is the kind of idealistic statement that might be made after one has consumed more than a few beers!



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