Magazine article Art Monthly

Bruce Nauman

Magazine article Art Monthly

Bruce Nauman

Article excerpt

Bruce Nauman Tate Liverpool May 19 to August 28

It is now commonplace to speak of Bruce Nauman in the same breath as we speak of Marcel Duchamp. It is not just a matter of his acknowledged debt to Duchamp, with whom he and other fellow West Coast artists such as John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha seem to share a special affinity, it is also a matter of his own influence on a subsequent generation of artists. It is now almost two decades since Jessica Diamond paid direct homage in her painting Yes Bruce Nauman in 1989, and since then Nauman's work, like Duchamp's, has gone beyond mere influence to enter the bloodstream of contemporary artists. The current 'Mapping the Studio', show at the Stedelijk, whose title derives from Nauman's Mapping the Studio I--All Action Edit (Fat Chance John Cage), 2002, is a case in point. His realisation that anything he did in the studio constituted art truly represented a breakthrough, an extension of the idea of Duchamp's readymade to the body--and mind--of the artist and, beyond that, to any space that he--and we--actually or notionally occupy, as in the sound piece, Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room, 1968.

This is the third major solo show that Nauman has had in this country: the first at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1986, under the aegis of its then director Nicholas Serota, which toured to the Musee d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC. Then, following the Walker Art Center retrospective of 1994-95 that toured to Madrid, Los Angeles and Zurich but not to London or Paris, the Pompidou Centre mounted the large-scale solo show that came to the Hayward Gallery in 1998. Now Tate Liverpool has collaborated with MADRE, Naples, on the current Nauman show, 'Make Me Think Me'. There is, it seems, a Nauman for all seasons.

The Whitechapel show was a restrained experience but nonetheless powerful for all that. The upstairs gallery looked like it had been shipped in from the Hallen fur Neue Kunst, Schaffhausen, focusing as it did on sculptural works that were in fact not sculptures proper, but primarily wood and plaster maquettes or proposals for unrealisable underground tunnels and passages with circular or triangular sections, such as Three Dead-End Adjacent Tunnels, Not Connected, 1979 (the cast iron version, formerly in the Saatchi Collection and now in the Tate Collection, which is also included in the present exhibition). These models, the most explicit being Model for Tunnel Made Up of Leftover Parts of Other Projects, 1979-80, that takes the form of a curvilinear swastika (not included in the Whitechapel show), anatomise structures of control and confinement, with dead-ends cutting off all ideas of escape. Even more explicit was the chief work in the ground floor gallery, South America Triangle that, with South America Circle, both of 1981, directly suggests torture--the chair suspended by wires from the ceiling acts as a body surrogate while the suspended steel triangle surrounding it creates a force-field immediately above one's head threatening, but at the same time implicating the viewer. This series of works has always seemed to me to be more telling than the more obvious suspended installations featuring the taxidermist 'bodies' of deer and wolves such as Untitled (Three Large Animals), 1989, or the 'severed' wax human heads such as Untitled Ten Heads Circle/Up and Down, 1990, both included in the current Liverpool show.

If the Whitechapel show was restrained, the Pompidou/ Hayward show was much more physical and in your face, an expression that seems somehow appropriate to Nauman's later practice. …

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