Home Magazine Bruce Nauman, Tate Modern

“Once the work is out of the studio” Bruce Nauman (1941, United States) said “it’s up to somebody else how it gets shown. You can’t spend all your time being responsible for how the work goes out into the world”.

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I read this sentence while visiting “Disappearing Acts”, Bruce Nauman retrospective at Schaulager in Basel in 2018, an extraordinary exhibition made possible thanks to the Schaulager and the Laurenz Foundation with the support of the MoMA in New York. This statement indicates an urgent attitude of the artist towards the creation of his works, the development of his thoughts and actions into a performative moment, or into an installation. Once the study for developing a gesture, translated into a video, a sound, a performance, a drawing, or a sculpture is done, Nauman needs to focus on the next one, and the shape of what he made – the work of art as the objectification of a deep process – become someone else responsibility. Once the artist created his work, it’s up to the public, or to a curator, a collector etc., to interpret it and to use it into the space. 


Bruce Nauman Falls, Pratfalls and Sleights of Hand (Clean Version) 1993 Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020.


A Bruce Nauman important retrospective has opened last January at Tate Modern in London, and it will be on view until February 21st. The importance of this topic moment in Europe, in which museums and cultural incubators are slowly going to be again available to the public, is underlined by the choice of Tate exhibitions and artists. “Run for fear”, “Fun from Rear”, “Suck Cuts” … Everyday life is hard and full of obstacles and points of view that a human being could search and observe through the body, or through an immersive perception of things and feelings. To watch and to live Nauman’s videos or installation is a challenge: the artist does not need to show the public a pleasant structure of a concept or thing. What his audience sees can be disturbing, obsessive, very complex. Through neon lights and writings, colors and rough materials, Bruce Nauman shows how reality could be examine in depth, analyzed, and changed. A human body can convert the space and its perception; a hand gesture can have hundreds of significances; a laugh can be a crying; a sequence of steps can indicate a hole environment; a measurement can indicate an object or a person; a vaudeville clown can be scary and sad. 


Bruce Nauman The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign) 1967 Kunstmuseum Basel (Basel, Switzwerland) © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020.


Nauman’s use of emotions and associations invite viewers to remove themselves both physically and psychologically from their surroundings. Maybe Tate curatorial choice to cover the exhibition not in a chronologically way but spreading the 13 rooms with a sequence of different topics, is a symbol of the importance of the research through different themes. 

“The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign)” (1967) – the work was purchased by Tate in 1978 - is a neon tubing with clear glass and it’s the first work of art and message the viewer face. The neon “was inspired by a commercial beer sign which still hung in his San Francisco studio, a former grocery store. Nauman explained: ‘I had an idea that I could make art that would kind of disappear – an art that was supposed to not quite look like art. You wouldn’t really notice it until you paid attention. Then when you read it, you would have to think about it”. A first message that invite to proceed, step by step, with this special path that can open some minds in a blue period. 


Anthro_Socio (Rinde Spinning) 1992, Hamburger Kunsthalle.



One Hundred Live and Die 1984, Collection Benesse Holdings, Inc.Benesse House Museum, Naoshima.


Cover image: Shadow Puppets and Instructed Mime 1990, Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation.

Written by Rossella Farinotti

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