Occupation: Sculptor, Photographer, Video Artist, Painter, Installation Artist
Movement: Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Conceptualism
“Eleven Color Photographs,” 1966-67/1970
“Window or Wall Sign,” 1967
“Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room,” 1968
“Changing Light Corridor with Rooms,” 1971
“Violent Incident,” 1986
“Clown Torture,” 1987
“Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer),” 1988
“World Peace,” 1996
“Setting A Good Corner,” 1999
“Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage),” 2001
“One Hundred Fish Fountain,” 2005
Bruce Nauman is an American sculptor, photographer, painter, videographer and installation artist best known for the dark humor and discomforting quality of his work. His most famously provocative works include his explorations into language and signs, absurd repetitive actions, and the psychological effects of being trapped in confined spaces.
Bruce Nauman was born in the winter of 1941 in Fort Wayne, in the northeast of Indiana. His father worked as an engineer with General Electric, which meant the family had to move often during Nauman’s childhood. He began attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1960, initially studying Mathematics, Physics and Music. But he graduated in 1964 with a degree in Art, and soon began attending the University of California in Davis, where he concentrated almost entirely on sculpture.
Nauman attracted the attention of the art world while still a student, particularly for his use of fiberglass, Styrofoam and neon tubing in his sculptures. Over the late ’60s, Nauman made a number of videos using his own body as an object, and made psychological states, patterns of behavior and systems of communication the focus of his work. And, his later experiments with sound cemented his reputation in the art world as an exciting new artist. In 1972, a retrospective of his work took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show was exhibited widely across the United States that year, including at the prestigious Whitney Museum in New York. Nauman was 31 years old at the time.
Throughout the 1970s, Nauman made art that polarized critics and provoked the public. The critic Jed Perl, for instance, was to complain later that the very things that were considered compelling about his work, were the very things that could be held against it as well.
By the late 1960s, he’d already begun to construct oddly-shaped claustrophobic corridors and enclosed rooms that evoked in his audiences a sense of being trapped and abandoned. In some cases, the panicked reaction of some of his audiences was also recorded. In 1971, he opened “Changing Light Corridor with Rooms,” an installation comprising a long, dark corridor lit by bulbs flashing on either side at different rates. His work was described as either humorous or painful by critics, and his increasing use of other non-traditional media made him one of the leading exponents of postmodern art.
In the early ’80s, Nauman began a series of installations inspired by a dream, called “Dream Passages,” delving deeper into physical and psychological experiences that were essentially disturbing. By the mid-80s, however, he’d returned to working primarily with sculpture and video, incorporating representations of human and animal body parts that drew radical reactions from his audiences. “Clown Torture” 1987, for example, is a series of five films projected in an enclosed room that sought to explore the hidden violence and horror that existed in children’s play. It represents a clown being subjected to a variety of actions while simultaneously launching a visual and aural attack on the audience, challenging their notions of playfulness until it is unbearable.
In 1988, Nauman returned to casting found objects. He created a number of foam animal models using taxidermy molds he discovered in a New Mexico shop. In one instance, “Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer),” he rearranged the anatomies of the animals into monstrous forms evocative of slaughterhouse scenes. In another, “Animal Pyramid,” he used the models to create a series of pyramids, the figures piled together like sacrificial offerings.
In 1989, Nauman bought a ranch in Galisteo, a tiny town in the heart of New Mexico with a population numbering less than 300 people even today. It’s where he still lives and works.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited a second Nauman retrospective in 1994, the first in two decades. The exhibition drew very strong reactions from critics, some even labeling his work as ‘anti-art’ for its intense Minimalism and the degree of discomfort it provoked. Robert Hughes even wrote of him that he “...has cut himself a different role: the artist as nuisance.”
Nauman continues to divide opinion within the art world. In the new century, he’s actively pursued more experiments with video, aural, and installation projects including, in 2009, a skywriting project in Pasadena. Though harsh critics have termed it boring and authoritarian, his work can now be found among collections at institutions like the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne.
As the critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, “Bruce Nauman is a great artist. There is no other kind or degree of artist he could be… The alternative would be to exclude Nauman from art altogether."
1941 - Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana
1960–64 - University of Wisconsin, Madison
1964–66 - University of California, Davis
1966–68 - Teaches at San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco
1970 - Teaches sculpture at University of California, Irvine
1986 - Skowhegan Award, Skowhegan
1989 - Married artist Susan Rothenberg
1991 - Max Beckmann
Award from the City of Frankfurt, Germany
1993 - Wexner Prize
1993 - Wolf Foundation Prize in Arts (Sculpture), Herzlia
1993 - Alumni Citation for Excellence, University of California, Davis
1995 - Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge
1995 - Aldrich Prize, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield
1997 - Member, Akademie der Künste, Berlin
1999 - Leone d'oro, 48th Venice Biennale
2000 - Member, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
2000 - Honorary Doctor of Arts, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia
2004 - Praemium Imperiale Prize for Visual Arts
2004 - Beaux-Arts Magazine Art Awards: Best International Artist, Paris
2009 - American representative to 2009 Venice Biennale
1966 - Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles
1968 - Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
1968 - Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf
1972–74 - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1982–83 - Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
1985 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1986–87 - Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1986–87 - Kunsthalle Basel, Basel
1986–87 - Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris
1990 - Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne
1993–95 - Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
1997–99 - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
2000 - Kunsthalle Wien Karsplatz, Vienna
2001 - Zwirner & Wirth, New York
2003 - Ludwig Museum, Cologne
2003 - Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
2003 - Dia Center for the Arts, New York
2003 - Sperone Westwater, New York
2003 - Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf
2003 - Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel
2005 - Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke-Heist
2005 - Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur, Chur
2005 - Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale
2005 - National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne
2005 - Galerie Lelong, Paris
2005 - Tate Modern, London
2010 - Musée d'Art Contemporain Lyon, Lyon
2010 - James Kelly Contemporary, Santa Fe
2010 - Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu
2010 - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany
2010 - Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen, Bremen
2010 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2010 - Sperone Westwater, New York
2010 - Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
2012 - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
2012 - White Cube, London
2012 - Galeria La Caja Negra, Madrid
2013 - La Biennale di Venezia, Venice
2013 - Beirut Art Center, Beirut
2013 - Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth
2013 - Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Gothenburg
2013 - National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea, Gwacheon
2013 - Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
MUSEUMS / COLLECTIONS
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Tate Gallery, London
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
BOOKS / PUBLICATIONS
“Bruce Nauman: Exhibition Catalogue and Catalogue Raisonne” by Neal Benezra, Kathy Halbreich and Paul Schimmel
“Bruce Nauman 25 Years” by Leo Castelli
“Bruce Nauman” by Christine Van Assche
“Bruce Nauman” by Dörte Zbikowski and Ellen Heider
“Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words: Writings and Interviews” by Bruce Nauman and Janet Kraynak
“Bruce Nauman - Raw Materials” by Emma Dexter
“Bruce Nauman (Art + Performance)” by Robert C. Morgan
“Bruce Nauman: The True Artist” by Peter Plagens