Bruce Nauman, A Cast of the Space Under My Chair (1965–68). Concrete. 17 1/2 by 15 3/8 by 14 5/8 inches. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
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 pause to figure it out. The sculpture just made intuitive sense to me and bubbled up every once in a while.
A couple of years ago, I did some research about a legendary piece of found furniture called the "slant step" while looking for an example of an object that was beloved because of, rather than in spite of, its ambiguous functionality. I was surprised to learn that the slant step had been purchased for Bruce Nauman in 1965 at a thrift store north of San Francisco by his graduate school mentor, William Wiley. Nauman, Wiley, and others in their Bay Area artistic circle latched onto the slant step as a sort of icon—a model for art-making or even a way of living. They organized an exhibition called "The Slant Step Show," published a book, and created a wide variety of artworks dedicated to it, including Nauman's Mold for a Modernized Slant Step (1966), a rough copy of the object in plaster with a groove down the middle.