EXHIBITIONS: Shout If You Hate It Bruce Nauman's Show Is about as Appealing as `Getting Hit with a Baseball Bat' - as the Artist Himself Might Say
Hilton, Tim, The Independent (London, England)
BRUCE NAUMAN is a highly overrated artist whose work at the Hayward Gallery turns out to be both boring and aggressive. He has all the Hayward's spaces to himself, and the rooms are mostly dark, for this is mostly an exhibition of videos. Furthermore, the show is noisy, since the videos often have repetitive soundtracks. There are lots of flashing lights and neon slogans. The effect is discomforting, as Nauman certainly intended. I found that the best way to experience the show was to take a dip into it for five minutes at a time, while otherwise making a base in the comparatively peaceful area of the Hayward cafe.
When Nauman converts tedium and punchiness into virtues, his art works. That is, it has an immediate and powerful effect on the viewer - "like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat," he hopes. In general, though, the aesthetic level is really low. Some of Nauman's working drawings were scarcely worth framing.
There's one early (1975) piece which one might class as a conventional sculpture. It consists of 16 chalk cubes placed directly on the floor in pairs. These pairs are three or four feet away from each other and form a rough circle. One of the cubes in each pair is about an inch bigger than the other. This work obviously relates to the minimal sculpture of its day, except that it's so null and feeble. Minimal sculpture declares its presence through perfect judgement of size and scale, or it is next to nothing. In these crucial respects Nauman's piece fails. He adds an irrelevant typewritten text, framed and hung on the wall.
Nauman is rather younger than the more aesthetic American minimal sculptors of the generation of Don Judd, Carl Andre and Robert Morris, whose work he admired via art magazines. He was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, studied art at the University of California, and in his earlier years was considered a West Coast artist, ie not a real part of the New York scene. Some of us remember that he first appeared at the Hayward in 1971 in a show called "Eleven Los Angeles Artists", when Nauman installed a narrow corridor - it wasn't really a sculpture, and that was the point - rather like the piece Live- Taped Video Corridor (1978) in the present exhibition. You had to squeeze through the corridor sideways. This gave small amounts of fun and irritation in equal measure.
Most of those LA artists of the early 1970s have long since disappeared into their native surf or whatever, while Nauman has steadily increased his worldwide appearances in museums. …