World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman, Human/Need/Desire, 1983
Born (1941-12-06) December 6, 1941
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Nationality American
Education University of Wisconsin–Madison and University of California, Davis
Known for sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing and performance
Notable work(s)

"La air," 1970,

"Human/Need/Desire," 1983
Awards Larry Aldrich Award

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


  • Life and work 1
    • Selected works 1.1
  • Exhibitions 2
  • Collections 3
  • Recognition 4
  • Influences 5
  • Art market 6
  • References and further reading 7
  • External links 8

Life and work

Nauman was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but his father's work as an engineer for General Electric meant that the family moved regularly.[1] He 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 Pecos, New Mexico. In 1989, he established a home and studio in Galisteo, 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.”[2] Nauman set up a studio in a former grocery shop in the Mission district of San Francisco and then in a sublet from his university tutor in Mill Valley. These two locations provided the setting for a series of performed actions which he captured in real time, on a fixed camera, over the 10 minute duration of a 16mm film reel.[3] 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.

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.

Selected works

Some of Nauman's best-known works include:

  • A Rose Has No Teeth (1966) - Lead, 7.5 x 8 x 2.25 in.
  • Eleven Color Photographs (1966-1967/1970) - Portfolio of eleven color photographs, various sizes, all approx. 19.75 x 23 in. edition of 8 Published by Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Art Make-Up (1967) - video in which Nauman slowly covers his face and upper torso with white, then pink, then green, then black makeup, until by the end he looks like a negative image[1] Initially the films were intended to be projected simultaneously on four walls of a room. Although this form of installation was never realized for this piece, Nauman employed the method for subsequent film and video installations.[6]
  • The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967)[7] – a spiraling neon sign with this slogan.
  • Flesh to White to Black to Flesh (1968) 51 minutes b&w, sound. Nauman puts on white makeup, then black makeup, then returns to his ordinary skin color.[8][9]
  • Burning Small Fires (1969) - artist's book for which Nauman burned Ed Ruscha’s book Various Small Fires and Milk (1964), photographed it, and edited a book of his own.[10]
  • Wall-Floor Positions (1969) - Videotape, black and white, sound, 60 mins. to be repeated continuously.
  • Pacing Upside Down(1969) 51 minutes b&w, sound. Nauman puts on white makeup, then black makeup, then returns to his ordinary skin color.[11][12]
  • LA AIR (1970)[13] – A soft-cover artist's book, featuring only 10 color illustrations [photographs] of the polluted Los Angeles skyline. It complements and extends the sky-blue pages of Nauman’s earlier book CLEA RSKY (1968-69).[14] No text.
  • Henry Moore bound to fail, back view(1967–1970)[15] – cast wax relief of a man's back with arms tied by ropes.[16] In 2001, this work sold for $9 million at auction. This is one of the highest prices paid for Nauman's work.
  • Please/Pay/Attention/Please (1973) - Collage and letraset, 27.5 x 27.5 in.
  • Elke allowing the floor to rise up over her face(1973) 39 minutes color sound. She lies on her back, turns over, moves around as the video makes her seem to sink below the floor.[11][17]
  • Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up, and Face Down(1973) 60 minutes. Tony lies there as if dead, then slowly wakes up, as the editing makes him seem to sink into the floor.[11][18]
  • Good Boy Bad Boy (1985) - Two video monitors, two videotape players, two videotapes (color,sound). dimensions variable.
  • Clown Torture (1987)[19] – in four 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)[20] – 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.[21]
  • Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer) (1988)[22] – Plexiglass maze, closed circuit video camera, video projector, two videotape players, two monitors, and two videotapes. Collection of MOMA.
  • World Peace (1996)[23]– five projectors or video players displaying four women and a man each speaking simultaneous monologues about world peace and endlessly rehearsing the words ‘We’ll talk – They’ll listen / You’ll talk – We’ll listen / They’ll talk – You’ll listen’.[24]
  • Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor) (1999)[25] – looping video of the artist setting a corner fencepost.
  • Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001)[26] – multiple projections record nocturnal activity by the artist's cat and various mice in his studio over the summer of 2000.
  • Raw Materials (2004)[27] – sound installation displayed in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern,[28] bringing together 21 audio pieces made over a period of 40 years.[29]
  • One Hundred Fish Fountain (2005) comprises hollow bronze fish, cast from catfish, bass, whitefish and other species, suspended by wires from the ceiling at different heights, as if swimming in deep water. Below them is a broad, shallow basin, cobbled together from rubber sheeting, which measures 25 feet by 28 feet, from which water is pumped up to each fish through a hose connected to its belly.[30] The environmentally scaled sculpture all but fills the room, allowing just a narrow track for the viewer to edge around the perimeter, in much the same way as Nauman's early corridor works first invited then restricted movement.[31]
  • Untitled "Leave the Land Alone" (1969/2009)[32] – premiered as a public skywriting project over Pasadena for the Armory Center for the Arts in September 2009, initiated by curator Andrew Berardini. The plane circled around and rewrote the brief sentence "Leave the Land Alone" several times. This work connects with LAAIR as well as lambastes the Land Art movement[33]
  • Days/Giorni (2009)[34] – two rows of wafer-thin white speakers that played 14 recordings of seven people chanting the days of the week, either in English (“Days”) or Italian (“Giorni”).[35] 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.[36]
  • For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers) (2010)[37] – 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.[36]
  • For Beginners (instructed piano) (2010) - sound piece featuring a tentative piano solo by the artist-musician Terry Allen.[38]


Nauman's work has been included in documenta (1968, 1972, 1977, 1992), the Whitney Biennial (1977, 1985, 1987, 1991, and 1997), and the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 1999, 2005, and 2007).


Truncated Pyramid Room (1982/1998) in Lörrach, Germany

Nauman's work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago;[48] Kunstmuseum Basel;[39] the Hallen für Neue Kunst Schaffhausen; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Hamburger Bahnhof/Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, Berlin; Museum Brandhorst, Munich; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum[41] and the Museum of Modern Art in New York;[49] the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC;[50] Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago;Tate Modern[27] in London, New Mexico Museum of Art,[51] and the Walker Art Center, among many others.


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

Bruce Nauman 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 - Throughout Nauman's long career, to a greater or lesser extent Nauman has credited Wittgenstein as an influence of his work. He has spoke of this influence in several interviews, in a 1970 interview Nauman speaks to the broader sense of Wittgenstein’s influence, “Just the way Wittgenstein proceeds in thinking about things, his awareness of how to think about things. I don’t think you can point to any specific piece that’s the result of reading Wittgenstein, but it has to do with some sort of process of how to go about thinking about things.” This was also a sentiment that was stated in a 1980 article. Nauman makes these statements even though he has pointed to a piece that was directly influenced in a 1966 interview where Nauman speaks about the piece “A rose has no teeth”. Which was a direct quote of one of Wittgenstein’s “language games”. No matter how much credit he has given to this relationship, it is something that art writers have continued to see in his work all through his career, especially in his linguistic works, whether written or spoken. Arthur C. Danto speaks of Nauman’s work and his relationship to Wittgenstein in an article written in 1995, “A great deal of the work of Bruce Nauman consists in issuing commands, is perhaps helpful to consider those works as having at times the framework and logic of language games--which means, since the works are often directed at us, that we are meant to do something in response...designed as language games, they address us less as viewers than participants. To experience a Nauman is to interact with it in some way that goes beyond appreciating it as a work of art.” In a similar line of thinking Janet Krynak in the book “Please pay attention please” makes a case that a set of works has a similar effect by the fact that all the pieces “Contain Directive or imperative verbs, calling out ‘You.’” Bringing the viewer into this language game that Nauman is setting up.
  • John Cage
  • Philip Glass
  • La Monte Young
  • Meredith Monk

as major influences on his work. Nauman was a part of the Process Art Movement.

Art market

Nauman's earliest supporters, in the 1970s, were mainly European patrons and institutions, such as the Kunstmuseum Basel. Chicago-based collector Gerald Elliott was the first American to amass a sizable number of Naumans, including the 1966 plaster sculpture Mold for a Modernized Slant Step, all of which went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, when he died in 1994. Emerging later as a prominent buyer was Friedrich Christian Flick, who collected more than 40 pieces from throughout Nauman’s career.

Two of Nauman's early auction records were for monumental neons, both walls of blinking punning phrases: Sotheby's New York hammered down One Hundred Live and Die (1984) to the Benesse Art Site, in Naoshima, Japan, for $1.9 million in 1992,[55] and five years later sold Good Boy/Bad Boy (1986–87) to the Daros Collection in Zürich for $2.2 million. Nauman’s neon work Violins Violence Silence (1981/82) realized $4 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2009.[56]

By 2001, the sculpture Henry Moore Bound to Fail (1967), a wax and plaster cast of Nauman’s own arms tied behind his back, had set a new auction record for postwar art when Christie's sold it for $9.9 million to Francois Pinault. In 2002, Sperone Westwater Gallery sold Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), four videos showing Nauman’s cat chasing mice during the night, for $1.2 million apiece to such museums as Tate Modern, London; Dia Art Foundation, New York; Kunstmuseum Basel; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Nauman is represented by Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, and Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf and Berlin (since 1968).[1]

References and further reading

  1. ^ a b c Andrew Solomon (March 05, 1995), Complex Cowboy: Bruce Nauman New York Times.
  2. ^ Art:21. Bruce Nauman PBS.
  3. ^ Bruce Nauman, 23 May – 8 July 2012 White Cube, London.
  4. ^ Bruce Nauman. Dream Passage, 28 May – 10 October 2010 Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.
  5. ^ (1971)Changing Light Corridor with RoomsBruce Nauman, Tate Collection.
  6. ^ (1967)Art Make-UpBruce Nauman, Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.
  7. ^ "Philadelphia Museum of Art on PBS". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  8. ^ Price, Jonathan (1977). Video Visions: A Medium Discovers Itself. New York: New American LIbrary.  
  9. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Flesh to White to Black to Flesh". Electronic Arts Intermix. Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  10. ^ Colin Westerbeck (February 11, 2007), Burning Small Fires: Artist book by Bruce Nauman (1968) Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b c Price, Jonathan (1977). Video Visions: A Medium Discovers Itself. New York: New American Library.  
  12. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Pacing Upside Down". Electronic Arts Intermix. Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  13. ^ "LAAIR on ubuweb". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  14. ^ Elements and Unknowns, September 4 – November 23, 2008 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  15. ^ "Henry Moor bound to fail- on artnet". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  16. ^ Ken Johnson (November 15, 2002), Bruce Nauman New York Times.
  17. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Elke allowing the floor to rise up over her face". Electronic Arts Intermix. Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  18. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up, and Face Down". Electronic Arts Intermix. Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Clown torture on vimeo". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  20. ^ "Vices and Virtues on PBS". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  21. ^ (1988)Vices and VirtuesBruce Nauman, University of California, San Diego.
  22. ^ "Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer) in MoMA". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  23. ^ "Peace in Sperone Westwater". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  24. ^ The Unilever Series: Bruce Nauman - Raw Materials, 12 October 2004 – 2 May 2005 Tate Modern, London.
  25. ^ "Setting a good corner- youtube video". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  26. ^ "Mapping the Studio 1". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  27. ^ a b c "Tate". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  28. ^ Adrian Searle (October 12, 2004), Inside the mind of Bruce Nauman The Guardian.
  29. ^ Richard Dorment (October 13, 2004), Sounds to make the mind race The Daily Telegraph.
  30. ^ Ken Johnson (August 9, 2012), Bruce Nauman: ‘One Hundred Fish Fountain’ New York Times.
  31. ^ Bruce Nauman: One Hundred Fish Fountain, July 30 - August 24, 2012 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  32. ^ "Untitled "Leave the Land Alone". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  33. ^ LA Times, August 6, 2009Bruce Nauman's Airborne Ambitions
  34. ^ "Days in MoMa". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  35. ^ a b Roberta Smith (December 17, 2009), Listen: Can You Hear the Space? New York Times.
  36. ^ a b Carol Vogel (July 7, 2011), 2 Continents, 1 Work and 31 Hand Positions New York Times.
  37. ^ "LACMA". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  38. ^ Roberta Smith (December 9, 2010), Bruce Nauman: ‘For Children/For Beginners’ New York Times.
  39. ^ a b "Kunstmuseum". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  40. ^ "Dia Art Foundation". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  41. ^ a b "Guggenheim". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  42. ^ "SMOCA". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  43. ^ "Liverpool". 
  44. ^ "MAM". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  45. ^ "BAM/PFA". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  46. ^ "Hamburger". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  47. ^ Bruce Nauman Guggenheim Collection.
  48. ^ "ArtInstitute". 
  49. ^ "MoMa". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  50. ^ "Hirshhorn". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  51. ^ . New Mexico Museum of Art$00401001?t:state:flow=5027193b-4bea-420a-b551-22a48af17b25. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  52. ^ a b "Golden Lion Reference". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  53. ^ Susan King (June 9, 2004), Nauman wins $135,000 prize Los Angeles Times.
  54. ^ Art FACTS
  55. ^ Carol Vogel (November 18, 1992), A Night to Buy Low at Sotheby's New York Times.
  56. ^ Souren Melikian (November 12, 2009), Sotheby's, in a Dazzling Sale, Nets $134 Million International Herald Tribune.
  • Ketner II, Joseph (2006). Elusive Signs – Bruce Nauman Works with Light. The MIT Press.  
  • Dexter, Emma; Bruce Nauman (2005). Raw Materials. Tate.  
  • Janet Kraynak, ed. (2003). Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words: Writings and Interviews. The MIT Press.  
  • (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

  • Biography, interviews, essays, artwork images and video clips from PBS series Art:21 - Art in the 21st Century - Season 1 (2001)
  • frieze2004 interview from
  • Setting a Good Corner, an interview, PBS, Art:21
  • Bruce Nauman in artfacts
  • Sperone Westwater Gallery
  • Bruce Nauman in the National Gallery of Australia's Kenneth Tyler collection

Works by Bruce Nauman

  • Bruce Nauman at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Bruce Nauman in the Tate Collection
  • Inside Installations: Mapping the Studio II Conservation project and e-learning module at Tate Online
  • Bruce Nauman in the Video Data Bank
  • Bruce Nauman in the Mediateca Media Art Space
  • Brooke Alexander Gallery


Review and criticism

  • Can everyone hear at the back?, by Rose Jennings, The Observer, October 10, 2004 – Martin Creed, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, John Baldessari and others on Bruce Nauman
  • Inside the mind of Bruce Nauman, by Adrian Searle, The Guardian, October 12, 2004
  • Nauman's rehashed sounds reverberate around the Tate's emptiness, by Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, October 12, 2004
  • From a whisper to a scream, by Laura Cumming, The Observer, October 17, 2004
  • Sound of surprise, with no risk of playing to the gallery, by Charlotte Simmons, The Guardian, October 9, 2004
  • Raw Materials Sound installation by Bruce Nauman at Tate Modern
  • Bruce Nauman at Hayward Gallery, by R.J. Preece, World Sculpture News, 4,3, 1998
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.