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Bruce Nauman’s enigmatic text art is having Paris thrilled all over again


eginning in the mid-1960s, Nauman exploited the ubiquity of neon signage to produce “art that would kind of disappear, an art that was supposed to not quite look like art.” He created luminous wordplays that alluded to tensions both individual and social, but which challenged viewers to find their own resonance. In Malice(1980), the foreboding noun is illuminated in red neon tubes, obscured behind its inverted spelling in green. The jumbled letters may suggest malice that has gone unnoticed, or imperviousness to violent acts”. With these words, Gagosian Paris introduces us one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century in the event of his exhibition of key works. Complementing the “Bruce Nauman” exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, the artist’s first major solo exhibition in France in more than 15 years, Gagosian’s Paris exhibition showcases the singularity of Nauman’s compelling visual language.

Born on the 6th of December, 1941, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Nauman’s art spans a broad range of media. Having studied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and art with William T. Wiley and Robert Arneson at the University of California, Nauman worked as an assistant to Wayne Thiebaud before signing with dealer Leo Castelli back in 1968. His work manifests a costant interest in language and it’s playful, mischievous mannerisms. This is an artist who is interested in the nature of communication “and the inherent problems of language, as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual language”.

Nauman received in 1993 the Wolf Prize in Arts (Israel) 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 created his work Raw Materials at Tate Modern. ranked Nauman as the number one among living artist in 2006, followed by Gerhard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg. Citing Samuel Beckett, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Cage, Philip Glass, La Monte Young and Meredith Monk as major influences on his work he is regarded a part of the Process Art Movement. Bruce Nauman was and still is an enigma and his text art is just a small piece of the neon mystery he is.

“Bruce Nauman: Selected Works from 1967 to 1990” is at Gagosian Paris until August 1, 2015. 

“My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon”, 1968, Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zurich / 2009, ProLitteris, Zürich

“Malice”, 1980. © Bruce Nauman/ADAGP, Paris 2015. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Zarko Vijatovic

“Violins Violence Silence” (Exterior Version), 1981-1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA

“The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths”, 1967, neon and clear glass tubing suspension supports, Philadelphia Museum of Art

“Eat Death”  Ca’ Pesaro, Venice, Photography by Luca Zuccala © ArtsLife

“Raw War”, 1970, The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli

“Run From Fear Fun From Rear”, 1972, Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts/Charles Wallbridge.

“Violins Violence Silence”, Tate Modern, Photography by pjpink

“One Hundred Live and Die”, 1984, Mindfuck exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, 2013-2014

“None Sing Neon Sign”, 1970, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Panza Collection, 1991

Phaidon’s Bruce Nauman: The True Artist

© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015

Bruce Nauman, 2009. Photograph: Jason Schmidt, Courtesy of Fondation Cartier Press Office