Bruce Nauman likes to work in isolation on his farm, removing himself from the buzzing chatter of city life and the art world. His practice is shaped by personal interests such as ethics, politics, the body and language. Although he works across a range of media such as video installation, performance, sculpture, neon and photography, he is known as a conceptual artist whose work often unsettles his audience, making them aware of their own physical bodies and beliefs.Read More
Nauman’s neon pieces—some of his most famous works—often explore the semantic possibilities and visual puns that occur when rearranging letters, such as Perfect Door/Perfect Odor/Perfect Rodo (1972) and Run from Fear, Fun from Rear (1972). Through this process of infusing satirical and absurd meaning into language, viewers begin to consider the role of semantics and the language of politics.
However, Nauman’s meaning is not always discovered immediately—viewers must dig deep to gauge his intention. When successful, onlookers are rewarded with themes that are pertinent to the everyday and range from life and death to spirituality and ethics. For those who do not dig deeper and instead take Nauman’s work at face value, other issues regarding the artist’s intent and misrepresentation surface. This is what the artist wants to be considered. The processes of art-making and transformation and the question of art’s purpose become relevant factors. Nauman’s work also references extreme mental states: despair, glee, humiliation, humour and hostility, to name a few.
Though Nauman’s work is associated with Minimalism, he does not conform to the fastidious finish and slickness often seen within the movement. Instead, his works seem crude or haphazard. Nauman also jumps between different media and style. This versatility has made Nauman all the more engaging and his work all the more challenging. For these reasons he is considered one of the most influential and prominent American artists today.
Nauman spent his childhood moving around various Midwestern locations. He graduated in 1964 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a bachelor’s degree in science and a minor in painting. That year he gave up painting and began experimenting with sculpture and performance art and collaborating on film projects. In 1966, he received an MFA from the University of California, Davis. His teachers there were working in sculpture outside its norms of the time, leading him to question his understanding of art and critique prominent methods and styles. From this, Nauman came to understand art as less of a product and more of an activity—asserting that anything made in an artist's studio could be art. Capturing 'performed actions', between 1966 and 1970, he worked extensively with video, focusing on behavioural codes of the body that went on to influence the next generation of video artists. Shot in real time, he produced a number of these works between his two studios in San Francisco and Mill Valley, California.
Jessica Douglas | Ocula | 2017
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