Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman, Human/Need/Desire, 1983
Born December 6, 1941 (1941-12-06) (age 69)
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Nationality American
Field sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing and performance
Training University of Wisconsin–Madison and University of California, Davis

"Laair," 1970,

"Human/Need/Desire," 1983
Influenced Greg Colson, Rachel Whiteread
Awards Larry Aldrich Award

Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana) is a contemporary American artist. His practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking, and performance. Nauman lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.


Life and work

Nauman studied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1960–64), and art with William T. Wiley and Robert Arneson at the University of California, Davis (1965–6). In 1964 he gave up painting to dedicate himself to sculpture, performance and cinema collaborations with William Allan and Robert Nelson. He worked as an assistant to Wayne Thiebaud. Upon graduation (MFA, 1966), he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1966 to 1968, and at the University of California at Irvine in 1970. In 1968 he met the singer and performance artist Meredith Monk and signed with the dealer Leo Castelli. Nauman moved from Northern California to Pasadena in 1969. In 1979, Nauman further moved to New Mexico where he continues to work and live along with his wife, the painter Susan Rothenberg.

Confronted with “What to do?” in his studio soon after graduating, Nauman had the simple but profound realization that “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.”[1] Between 1966 and 1970 he made several videos, in which he used his body to explore the potentials of art and the role of the artist, and to investigate psychological states and behavioural codes. Much of his work is characterized by an interest in language, often manifesting itself in a playful, mischievous manner. For example, the neon Run From Fear- Fun From Rear, or the photograph Bound To Fail, which literalizes the title phrase and shows the artist's arms tied behind his back. There are however, very serious concerns at the heart of Nauman's practice. He seems to be fascinated by the nature of communication and language's inherent problems, as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols.

Nauman began in the 1960s with exhibitions at Nick Wilder’s gallery in Los Angeles and in New York at Leo Castelli in 1968 along with early solo shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in 1972. Through most of his midcareer until the early 1980s he flew just below the radar of art market experts.[2]

His Self Portrait as a Fountain (1966) shows the artist spouting a stream of water from his mouth. At the end of the 1960s, Nauman began constructing claustrophobic and enclosed corridors and rooms that could be entered by visitors and which evoked the experience of being locked in and of being abandoned. A series of works inspired by one of the artist's dreams was brought together under the title of Dream Passage and created in 1983, 1984, and 1988.[3] In his installation Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1971), a long corridor is shrouded in darkness, whilst two rooms on either side are illuminated by bulbs that are timed to flash at different rates.[4]


In 1966, the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, held Nauman’s first solo exhibition of fibreglass sculptures just before the artist received his master's degree. In 1968, the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and the Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, initiated a long series of solo shows. Also in 1968, he was invited for the first time to participate in Documenta 4 in Kassel, and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that enabled him to work in New York for one year. As early as 1972, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, organized the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work, which traveled in Europe and the United States. A major retrospective was held at the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, in 1981. Since the mid-1980s, primarily working with sculpture and video, he has developed disturbing psychological and physical themes incorporating images of animal and human body parts. Nauman retrospective was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and traveled to many venues throughout America and Europe from 1993 to 1995. In 1997, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg mounted another major retrospective, which toured the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Hayward Gallery in London and Nykytaiteen Museo in Helsinki. Since then, Nauman has had major solo exhibitions at Dia Art Foundation (2002), Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2003), Tate Modern (2004), Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (2005), Tate Liverpool (2006), Milwaukee Art Museum (2006), Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2007), and Hamburger Bahnhof (2010).[5]


Nauman's work is in the collections of the Kunstmuseum Basel; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; and the Tate Modern in London among many others.


Fifteen Pairs of Hands (1996) in the collection of the National Gallery of Art

In 1993, Nauman received the Wolf Prize in Arts (an Israeli award) for his distinguished work as a sculptor and his extraordinary contribution to twentieth-century art. In 1999, he received the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale. in 2004 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture. That same year he created his work Raw Materials specifically for display at the Tate Modern. ranked Nauman as the number one among living artist in 2006, followed by Gerhard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg.[6] Time Magazine named Nauman one of their 100 most influential people in 2004.

On January 25, 2008, the United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announced the selection of Bruce Nauman as the American representative to the 2009 Venice Biennale where he won the prestigious Golden Lion.[7]

He holds honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts.


Nauman cites Samuel Beckett, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Cage, Philip Glass, La Monte Young and Meredith Monk as major influences on his work. Nauman was a part of the Process Art Movement.


Some of his best-known works include:

  • Laair (1970) - A soft-cover artist's book, featuring only 10 color illustrations [photographs] of the Los Angeles skyline. No text.
  • Clown Torture - in separate stacked video screens, a clown screaming "No" repeatedly, a clown telling an annoying children's joke, a clown balancing goldfish bowls, and a clown sitting on a public toilet.
  • Vices and Virtues (1988) - Atop the Charles Lee Powell Structural Systems Laboratory on the campus of the University of California, San Diego as part of the Stuart Collection of public art: neon signs seven feet tall, alternating the seven vices and seven virtues: FAITH/LUST, HOPE/ENVY, CHARITY/SLOTH, PRUDENCE/PRIDE, JUSTICE/AVARICE, TEMPERANCE/GLUTTONY, and FORTITUDE/ANGER.
  • The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths - a spiraling neon sign with this slogan.
  • Setting a Good Corner - looping video of the artist setting a corner fencepost.
  • World Peace - five projectors or video players displaying four women and a man each speaking simultaneous monologues about world peace.
  • Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer) - maze, closed circuit video camera, video projector, two videotape players, two monitors, and two videotapes. Collection of MOMA.
  • Henry Moore bound to fail, back view(1967–1970)- In 2001, this work sold for $9 million at auction. This is one of the highest prices paid for Nauman's work.[8]
  • Raw Materials (2004) - displayed in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern; successfully included a lifetime of text pieces into a single Gesamtkunstwerk-cum-audio retrospective.[2]
  • Untitled "Leave the Land Alone" (1969/2009) - premiered as a public skywriting project over Pasadena for the Armory Center for the Arts in September 2009, initiated by curator Andrew Berardini. This work connects with LAAIR as well as lambastes the Land Art movement[9]
  • Days (2009) - two rows of wafer-thin white speakers that played voices chanting the days of the week. Purchased in a 50-50 deal by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Maja Oeri, a MoMA trustee whose Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation is at the Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland.[10]
  • For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers) (2010) - video depicting Nauman’s hands enacting all the possible combinations of the four fingers and thumb — 31 positions in all — accompanied by his verbal enumeration of each finger combination. Purchased in a 50-50 deal by François Pinault and LACMA.[11]

References and further reading

  • Ketner II, Joseph (2006). Elusive Signs - Bruce Nauman Works with Light. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-944110-83-5. 
  • Dexter, Emma; Bruce Nauman (2005). Raw Materials. Tate. ISBN 1-85437-559-8. 
  • Janet Kraynak, ed (2003). Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words: Writings and Interviews. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-64060-0. 
  • Robert C. Morgan ed. "Bruce Nauman", Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002
  • (French) Bruno Eble, "Le miroir sans reflet. Considérations sur Bruce Nauman", Paris, L'Harmattan, 2001. ISBN 2-7475-0953-2

External links

General and biographical

Works by Bruce Nauman


Review and criticism

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  • NAUMAN (B.) — NAUMAN BRUCE (1941 ) Le corps comme matériau porteur de signes, comme médiation esthétique entre une idée et une forme plastique, comme fondation éthique et ontologique, est l’un des sujets principaux de l’œuvre de Bruce Nauman. Le corps de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Nauman, Bruce — ▪ American artist born Dec. 6, 1941, Fort Wayne, Ind., U.S.       American artist whose work in a broad range of mediums has made him a major figure in conceptual art.       Nauman was educated at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (B.A., 1964) …   Universalium

  • Nauman —   [ naʊmən], Bruce, amerikanischer Künstler, * Fort Wayne (Indiana) 6. 12. 1941. Seine Arbeiten umfassen Installationen, Objekte, Plastiken, Zeichnungen, an M. Duchamp orientierte visuelle Wortspiele (Gedanken über Kunst) und Videoaufzeichnungen …   Universal-Lexikon