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b. 1941, USA

Bruce Nauman Biography

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. 

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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

Bruce Nauman Featured Artworks

Caffeine Dreams by Bruce Nauman contemporary artwork
Bruce NaumanCaffeine Dreams, 1987Offset lithograph
75.2 x 61 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Life Mask by Bruce Nauman contemporary artwork
Bruce NaumanLife Mask, 1981Lithograph on Arches Cover paper
28 x 38 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Triangle by Bruce Nauman contemporary artwork
Bruce NaumanTriangle, 1977–1986Cast iron
27 x 500 x 433 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery

Bruce Nauman Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Beside Itself at Hauser & Wirth, Hong Kong
30 April–30 June 2020 Group Exhibition Beside Itself Hauser & WirthOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, (SELF) PORTRAITS at Parkett, Zurich
22 February–30 September 2020 Group Exhibition (SELF) PORTRAITS Parkett, Zurich Exhibition SpaceZurich Exhibition Space
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Observations at Centre Pompidou x West Bund Shanghai, Shanghai
8 November 2019–30 August 2020 Group Exhibition Observations Centre Pompidou x West Bund ShanghaiShanghai

Bruce Nauman Represented By

Bruce Nauman In Ocula Magazine

RoseLee Goldberg: Performance Then and Now Ocula Conversation RoseLee Goldberg: Performance Then and Now By Fawz Kabra

RoseLee Goldberg had long been invested in contemporary performance art before her founding of the inter-disciplinary arts organisation Performa in New York in 2004. Born in Durban, South Africa, Goldberg studied political science and fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and then art history at the Courtauld...

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Bruce Nauman In Related Press

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How Artist Bruce Nauman Plays at the Edges of the Human Related Press How Artist Bruce Nauman Plays at the Edges of the Human 13 February 2019, Frieze

'My work', Bruce Nauman told Art in America in 1988, 'comes out of being frustrated about the human condition.' Black radical aesthetics and criticism prefigured my encounter with Disappearing Acts, the artist's retrospective survey at the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York, which was first mounted at The Schaulager last summer in...

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Bruce Nauman at Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 Related Press Bruce Nauman at Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 1 January 2019, Dore Bowen

Bruce Nauman provokes mixed emotions by creating situations rather than presenting figures for us to fear, pity, or empathize with. His artworks position us not as viewers but as participants, often unwilling. These situations vary in effect from pleasurable to nearly intolerable, as evidenced by the 170 works featured in the artist's mammoth...

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Among Things Related Press Among Things 1 December 2018, Art in America

EVERY ONCE IN a while I get an artwork stuck in my head. Bruce Nauman's A Cast of the Space Under My Chair (1965–68) was one such work. For years, while sketching new sculptures or gabbing in a studio visit, I would remember it, though I'll admit that for the first few years this happened, I didn't consistently remember who made it. I didn't...

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Your Guide to the Best Shows in Basel Related Press Your Guide to the Best Shows in Basel 11 June 2018, Frieze

Bruce Nauman, 'Disappearing Acts' Schaulager 17 March – 26 August The Schaulager enjoys immense resources; its founder, Maja Oeri, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and a major donor to its collection, is honoured with a MoMA gallery in her name. Bruce Nauman's detailed survey exhibition, created in collaboration with that...

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Bruce Nauman In Video & Audio

A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection Related Video & Audio A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection 8 May 2018, Hauser & Wirth

Unfolding across all three floors of Hauser & Wirth New York, 22 nd Street, A Luta Continua is the first United States presentation of the Sylvio Perlstein Collection. Curated by David Rosenberg, the exhibition presents more than 360 works by some 250 artists. Among these are Josef Albers, Carl Andre, Diane Arbus, Hans Bellmer, André...

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