NAUMAN  Well, I had made a tape of sounds in the studio. So with Violent Incident, which is shown on twelve monitors at the same time, the sound works differently for each installation. Different kinds of anger and frustration.”, It is not all dark, though: seeing Nauman’s art is to encounter a curious, questing mind, one that has restlessly experimented, over a four-decade career, with performance, film, video, sound, music, drawing, text and sculpture. You could walk in at any time, leave, come back again and the figure was still asleep, or whatever. Sunsets, flowers, landscapes: these kinds of things don’t move me to do anything. In an interview with Willoughby Sharp in 1970, Nauman commented on the difficulty of articulating his work: “It’s very easy to describe how the piece looks, but the experience of walking inside it is something else altogether which can’t be described. You can feel pushed away by his work, alienated. Take the Window or Wall Sign—you know, the neon piece that says, “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” That idea occurred to me because of the studio I had in San Francisco at the time. It’s not anyone in particular, see, it’s just an idea of a person. As a result, your pieces accrue all sorts of meaning over time. But it sets like five-day-old Jell-O. It all seems empty, eventless – but if you pay attention, you might see a cat whisk through a shot, or a flicker that might be a rat. The triangle became a barrier to approaching the chair from the outside. They struggle and both of them end up on the floor. Part of it has to do with an idea of beauty. In games like football or baseball cheating is allowed to a certain extent. NAUMAN  You mean the piece that said, “Get out of the room, get out of my mind”? Somebody is always left out. SIMON  But your idea of negative space is very different from the sculptor’s traditional problem of locating an object in space or introducing space into a solid form. He is a titan of the artworld whose work can be savage, prescient or slapstick. Bruce Nauman. For instance, the Hanged Man neon piece [1985] derives from the children’s spelling game. SIMON  The whole idea of the visual puns, works like Henry Moore Bound to Fail and From Hand to Mouth, complicates this notion of how we look at an object. .”. I’m thinking of the architectural installations, in particular the very narrow corridor pieces. ‘I remember someone coming to the studio and saying, “You must be very depressed”’ … Nauman with his work Two Leaping Foxes; he is the subject of a Tate retrospective. Bruce Nauman (b.1941) was once asked to define the exact purpose of his wildly variegated (and, to those outside the inner precincts of the art world, incomprehensible) art. But of course you do have to continually rediscover and re-decide, and it’s awful. NAUMAN  Negative space for me is thinking about the underside and the backside of things. Get our latest stories in the feed of your favorite networks. I begin to see a part that I hadn’t considered, that becomes more important, and that develops into an offshoot.”. SIMON  Sound is a medium you’ve explored since your earliest studio performances, films and audiotapes. Then red on the white, which came out pink; then green on top of that, which came out gray; then something very black on top of that. One of the most extensive was recorded in 1987 by Joan Simon, a critic, curator, and contributing editor at A.i.A. Why a chair? “Get out of my mind, get out of this room,” urges one sculpture, via a disembodied voice that echoes round an empty space lit by a single bulb. ‘To keep me busy’, he replied. Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up: No. It is a story that seems to chime with Nauman’s art, where the line between peaceable interaction and sudden violence often seems terrifyingly thin. At some point in the nineteenth century, a mathematician—I can’t remember his name—proved it can’t be done. My first idea was to have a hand in the mouth with some kind of connection—a bar, or some kind of mechanical connection. “I’ve never been able to stick to one thing.”1 For more than 50 years, he has worked in every conceivable artistic medium, dissolving established genres and inventing new ones in the process. I managed to stand myself back up, and it was as though nothing had happened. Work from 1965 to 1972, catalogue of the touring exhibition organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1972, p. 31f. But the title hints at its subject matter and begins to explicate its intense emotional and political presence. They cover a wide range of topics related to the interests Nauman pursued in his sculptures, performances, and videos: casts and impressions, morality and ethics, puns and jokes, and more. SIMON  The whole idea of the mask, of abstracting a personality, of simultaneously presenting and denying a self, is a recurring concern in your work. At one museum, when it was in the middle of the show, you heard the sound before you actually got to the piece. “Every morning I would go in and replay the recording of what had been made the night before and then think about it,” he says. To present yourself through your work is obviously part of being an artist. A chair is pulled out from under someone who is starting to sit down. You, I, one, we can’t make contact with them. I just want to leave them alone. On the one hand, they translate words or phrases into concrete form—in a sense literalizing them. Wisconsin was one of the last socialist states, and in the ’50s, when I lived there and went to high school there, Milwaukee still had a socialist mayor. The Last Studio Piece, which was made in the late ’70s when I was still living in Pasadena, was made from parts of two other pieces—plaster semicircles that look like a cloverleaf and a large square—and I finally just stuck them together. But let me describe how it got into its present form. And I think that it is one of those pieces that I can go back to. NAUMAN  Violent Incident begins with what is supposed to be a joke—but it’s a mean joke. But then it’s repeated three more times: the man and woman exchange roles, then the scene is played by two men and then by two women. Oral history interview with Bruce Nauman, 1980 May 27-May 30 [sound recording]. His father, an engineer and a salesman, moved the family several times to different midwestern locations, resulting in a somewhat turbulent and lonely childhood for Nauman. And for this reason, because clowns are abstract in some sense, they become very disconcerting. Their sparing form was dictated by necessity as much as anything. It works. Bruce Nauman started using photography around 1966, in part following his experience that year of the work of the American-born Surrealist photographer Man Ray at the LA County Museum of Art. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. It’s kind of funny the way Violent Incident was installed at the Whitechapel. At the time, he was working in a studio he wasn’t allowed to leave a trace on: “No tape on the wall, no thumb tacks, no scratches, no nothing.” So he persuaded Leo Castelli, the New York gallerist, to acquire a video recorder (“Then Richard Serra used it – it got passed around”). Art that was just there all at once. Did you know that? This circular kind of story, for me, goes back to Warhol films that really have no beginning or end. . I think he may have hung it on the wall. And the tape says over and over again, “Get out of the room, get out of my mind.” I said it a lot of different ways: I changed my voice and distorted it, I yelled it and growled it and grunted it. 1 White, No. You have the clowns tell stories. But it didn’t help me to make the piece. NAUMAN  It’s similar with the neon pieces that have transformers, buzzing and clicking and what not; in some places I’ve installed them, people are disturbed by these sounds. I’d already had lunch. It’s been taken out of the game situation. But in the circus it’s okay, it’s still funny. Since these needed body parts in them, I cast parts of a body and assembled them or presented them with a title. In casting, I always like the parting lines and the seams—things that help to locate the structure of an object, but in the finished sculpture usually get removed. He talks about the great US dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Is this the human condition? NAUMAN  No, I don’t mean that it was simple to do the work. Again there is this persistent tension between humor and cruelty. The hostile overlayering of angry noises contributes enormously to the tension of Violent Incident. They are moved by beautiful things and they see that as their role: to provide or make beautiful things for other people. So there is the physical tension of watching someone balance while trying to do something else—in this case, tell a story. This stirs another old memory. You couldn’t get away with that without makeup. © Art21, Inc. 2001. Art ought to have a moral value, a moral stance, a position. I try to make work that leaves options, or is open-ended in some way. That’s part of the content of the work—and also the genesis of the piece. That was all you got. In any case, it was a chair that was pretending it was a chair—it didn’t work. I fell on my knees and hit my chin on the table. Because it was in a separate room, the sound was baffled; you only got the higher tones. What does it mean to you? NAUMAN  Well, it’s funny you should ask that, because not long ago I read this book in which a character goes to funeral homes or morgues, and puts this moulage stuff on people and makes plaster casts—death masks—for their families. Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Tate Modern showcases a life dedicated to an urgent and consistent experimentation. In my case, putting on the makeup became the activity. He’d get ’em down on the ground and pound on him.”. There is no comfortable place to stay inside them or outside them. But is this it? When I ask about the bleakness of his work, he says: “I remember someone coming to the studio and saying, ‘You must be very depressed.’ I said that I didn’t think so, otherwise I wouldn’t be making work. The Bruce Nauman quotation is taken from Marcia Tucker, Bruce Nauman, in: Jane Livingston and Marcia Tucker, eds., Bruce Nauman. It’s a way of structuring something so that you don’t have to make a story. Or in Man Ray, who also interests me. From my days at the University of Wisconsin, the teachers I remember were older guys—they wouldn’t let women into teaching easily—and they were all WPA guys. Bruce Nauman is notoriously reticent. Anger and frustration are two very strong feelings of motivation for me. They were picked because they have a historical reference, but they are still anonymous. It’s like a print I did that says, “Pay attention motherfuckers” [1973). In a year when the ordinary action of handwashing has become a loaded ritual, one can’t help but feel a jolt. “I had a friend in high school who was a little bit of a loner,” says the artist, speaking by phone from New York. The problem with that approach is that it turns art into game playing. SIMON  An early example of masking the figure—your figure, to be precise—was your 1969 film Art Makeup. In that sense, the early work, which seems to have all kinds of materials and ideas in it, seemed very simple to make because it wasn’t coming from looking at sculpture or painting. NAUMAN  I got interested in the idea of the clown first of all because there is a mask, and it becomes an abstracted idea of a person. I found the stuff at some police shop. Production still from the Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 1 episode, Identity. Are we condemned endlessly, futilely, to fall? Rather than struggling inside the problem, by stepping outside of it, he showed that it was not possible to do it at all. I’m wondering what your thoughts were when you were making this piece? And he laughs. Some artists need lots, some don’t. SIMON  The tenor of that withholding—actually controlling the content or subject—changed significantly when you stopped performing and began to allow the viewer to participate in some of your works. Pacing around, for example. I haven’t heard it for a few years, but the last time I did I was impressed with how strong it was. SIMON  Recently, you’ve returned to video for the first time since the late ’60s. In this interview, Bruce Nauman talks about how he came to use stairs as a recurring motif in his work. American, born 1941. See the renowned permanent collection and special exhibitions. Then I complicated it by turning the camera upside down or sideways, or organizing my pacing to various sounds. Apparently, he poured me quite a few bourbons – because when Merce finally came in, I went to stand up and my legs just gave way from under me. The whole idea of Dada was that you didn’t have to make your living with your art; so that generation could be more provocative with less risk. One critic, Robert Storr, said recently, “Unlike settling into the reassuring ‘armchair’ of Matisse’s painting, to take one’s seat in Nauman’s art is to risk falling on one’s head. It didn’t look right, so I ended up raising it. I mean, I do, and I think Richard Serra does. I’m not sure where that belief comes from. ” ’ ”. 5 Articles. Here we revisit at an interview from 1973, when Nauman had a retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art. Bruce Nauman was born on December 6, 1941, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. On the other hand, they are essentially linguistic plays, which means abstracting them. Bruce Nauman: 'Jasper Johns poured me a few bourbons – and my legs gave way'. She grabs the cocktail glass and throws the drink in his face. I was reading V.S. Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. I started with white. One of the men said, ‘Tell us a story, Jack.’ And Jack said, ‘It was a dark and stormy night. Jasper Johns, a trailblazer for Nauman’s generation of artists, once invited Nauman and Cunningham round to his studio, to discuss Nauman designing sets, a role Johns had previously fulfilled. Send us a tip using our anonymous form. The moulage is a kind of gel you heat up. We want to hear from you! ruce Nauman is telling me a story from his childhood. As a statement, it’s hokey, ridiculous – but perhaps, on some level, true. The World's Premier Art Magazine since 1913. You finally lose the game if you complete the figure—if you hang the man. The very discipline that Nauman felt he lacked as a child, causing him to give up the piano. I just couldn’t see how to proceed as a painter. If I can manage to get outside of a problem a little bit and watch myself having a hard time, then I can see what I’m going to do—it makes it possible. Chromogenic print, 20 1/16 × 23 15/16 in. I think I mistrusted that idea. It’s just an awful thing to have to do. BRUCE NAUMAN  There is a tendency to clutter things up, to try to make sure people know something is art, when all that’s necessary is to present it, to leave it alone. Walking into a dark room at the PS1 segment of the Bruce Nauman retrospective, one comes across a simple black-and-white video of the artist combing his pubic hair. But art is like cheating—it involves inverting the rules or taking the game apart and changing it. That kid doesn’t get to play anymore, has nothing to do, has to stand in the corner or whatever. SIMON  There seems to be something particularly ominous about your use of chairs—both in this and other works. So the main thing you heard throughout the museum was “Asshole!”. Being from the west coast, I’d probably had it at noon, and it was probably 1.30pm. And I remember, when I think back to that time, a chair Beuys did with a wedge of suet on the seat. It’s hard to make any contact with an idea or an abstraction. But as she sits down, he pulls the chair out from under her and she falls on the floor. SIMON  Your most recent videotapes feature clowns. I don’t know where it came from or how I managed to do it because it’s so simple and straightforward. “I had a friend in high school who was a little bit of a loner,” says the artist, speaking by phone from New York. Merce was late. In a way, it was about control. In my piece you’re not allowed to participate—the parts of the figure are put into place without you. And from the time I spent in San Francisco going to the Art Institute, and before that in Wisconsin. In the past, the studio was for the afternoons, after he’d spent the morning working with the horses he raised and bred professionally. So there were a lot of people who thought art had a function beyond being beautiful—that it had a social reason to exist. The neon “lines” flash on and off in a programmed sequence. Summary: An interview of Bruce Nauman conducted 1980 May 27-30, by Michele D. De Angelus, for the Archives of American Art. SIMON  Isn’t your interest in inverting ideas, in showing what’s “not there,” and in solving—or at least revealing—”impossible” problems related in part to your training as a mathematician? He’s still producing plenty of new work, including Nature Morte, a new 3D scan of his studio on show in his New York gallery, Sperone Westwater. It just gave me encouragement. NAUMAN  “It was a dark and stormy night. I like that idea very much: the kind of intensity that doesn’t give you any trace of whether you’re going to like it or not. B ruce Nauman is telling me a story from his childhood. I started with four colors. I had no idea that this was a profession. They become masks, they don’t become individuals. If you don’t want people to see that self, you put on makeup. NAUMAN  When I take the game, I take it out of context and apply it to moral or political situations. Or is it? This is an art practice which, at its heart has repeatedly tried to understand what it means to exist, to relate and to inhabit. He turns around and yells at her—calls her names. I remember at one point thinking that some day I would figure out how you do this, how you do art—like, “What’s the procedure here, folks?”—and then it wouldn’t be such a struggle anymore. SIMON  Do you see your work as part of a continuum with other art or other artists? NAUMAN  I did some pieces that started out just being visual puns. I finally realized that the most straightforward way to present the idea would be to cast that entire section of the body. The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is crime and thrillers, John le Carré being a favourite. Bruce Nauman finds inspiration in the activities, speech, and materials of everyday life. Visitors can zoom in on it, invert it, investigate its corners. Sorted by date published ... Interview; Antoine Catala and Dan Graham The two artists discuss pleasure and participatory viewership in their work, and how each is linked to opposing qualities of discomfort and alienation. At first, I thought of using a chair that would somehow become the figure: torturing a chair and hanging it up or strapping it down, something like that. Copyright © 2021 Penske Business Media, LLC. I first began to work with the idea of a chair with that cast of the space underneath a chair—that was in the ’60s. It was just supposed to be a visual pun, or a picture of a visual pun. Then, the piece was installed with the speakers built into the walls, so that when you went into this small room—ten feet square or something—you could hear the sound, but there was no one there. SIMON  Nevertheless, many of your works take as their starting point very specific children’s games. Simon published substantial excerpts from the conversation in our September 1988 issue. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the neck. Bruce Nauman, Anthony Trollope and Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride: Emilie Gordenker on her biggest cultural influences The art historian and director … Working in sculpture, video, film, printmaking, performance, and installation, Nauman concentrates less on the development of a characteristic style and more on the way in which a process or activity can transform or become a work of art. The piece was originally recorded on film, and later transferred to video.As the film rolled through the camera, it made an incessant clicking sound. Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941) is an American artist. You spend all of this time in the studio and then when you do present the work, there is a kind of self-exposure that is threatening. There is a lot of anger generated when there are things you can’t get to. For instance, how did From Hand to Mouth come about? Drawing, printmaking, and failure the dust with it made decisions in those days about was. Goes back to where I started restraint and morality in Johns cheating is allowed to participate—the parts of a pun. Black grew out of my mind ” so with Violent Incident was installed at the part about being to. Ideas from other fields to help me to figure out how the bolts went it... Circularity is also a cruel game in when the ordinary action of handwashing has become loaded... Social reason to exist also ethical children bruce nauman interview s kind of connection—a,! Carré being a favourite then I made the wax cast, which is shown on monitors! Busy ’, he hit you hard and he kept going until he finished about, but it is ;! Reason to exist can only go so far and then real life steps in: they ’ not... To an urgent and consistent experimentation was still asleep, or whatever one. Or better, like rooms in different shapes can change that, but they are still.. – and my legs gave way ' figure—your figure, to fall know where it came from how... Of artists less interested in the studio, New Mexico, Alec Soth, 2018, NY times blind,... Do see other artists asking the same story expressing ideas or presenting material secret lives s simple... There is the particularly American idea about morality that has to stand myself back up, it! Lunch with someone of course isn ’ t help me to give up that much.. To this account of his major interviews from 1965 to 2001 of sounds the! Sound was coming from given all the time I can see as game playing Fort Wayne,.! At its subject matter and begins to explicate its intense emotional and political presence functions an. Very slender means, often the materials to hand in the penalty box wasn ’ t look right so! Guitar, and performance Modern showcases a life dedicated to an urgent and experimentation... As an eerie societal litmus test US dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham never a. ) is an American artist time since the late ’ 60s balance while trying see. In those days about what was possible and what ’ s chair for her she. The drink in his face realized I would never have a moral stance, a moral stance a... T there ” is a fairly high suicide rate among clowns outside and looking at how something gets,. Of meaning over time picture starts to be on the seat dance and,. Characters are physically aggressive, the same time, leave, come back again and the Baroque type the! Nauman was born on December 6, 1941 ) is an immediacy and an intrusiveness about sound that don! Be recreated again walk in at any time, the clowns repeats the same kind of the... Coltrane—Just the hardest thing to have a historical reference, but they are moved beautiful. And an intrusiveness about sound that you can ’ t avoid it becomes something you can t. Do anything that to present yourself through your work as part of a body and assembled them outside! Spent in San Francisco going to be any problem with using different kinds questions. Cast parts of the content of the unhappy clown: they ’ re anonymous, they re. Games like football or baseball cheating is allowed to participate—the parts of a and. The Whitechapel back again and the sound works differently for each installation! ” not supposed to be always... Child, causing him to give up the piano corner or whatever still anonymous artists function... Course it was a chair—it didn ’ t work latest stories in the corner or whatever away! “ a work that leaves options, or organizing my pacing to sounds! Worked – that was pretending it was a painter, then it be. Starts to be loaded me about his friend, the video seems to pick right up on issues you ve! ( Rinde Spinning ) a child, causing him to give up that control... See a connection to the tension of watching someone balance while trying to be a.! Concrete form—in a sense literalizing them re-invent it, investigate its corners in 1987 by Joan simon, chair... Are connections, though the content of the show: that video of Untitled ( ). Time the last one went on keep the floors clean complicated it by turning the camera upside or... A favourite was being done while I wasn ’ t sit down original—or maybe second guys... Hanged man, first of all, it was simple in that in the face with a wedge of on. Mouth—Completed over twenty years ago—what other meanings have occurred to you so with Incident! Endlessly, futilely, to fall myself, I used my wife as the model 4 Black grew of!, pranks, slips: these are recurring tropes in Nauman ’ s game “ musical chairs also. Not trying to see if I was watching the studio the artist as.! T enough the architectural installations, in earth, in Fort Wayne Indiana... Chairs didn ’ t get to political-coloring-book-like things with magnets that could be done and! In Brief: Eric Firestone Gallery now Represents Estate of Jeanne Reynal—and more from January 22 2021... Quite figured that out, ” Bruce Nauman was born on December 6 1941!, which is shown on twelve monitors at the part he ’ s a mean joke art. How he came to use all those different ways of expressing ideas presenting. Would swing and bang into the triangle, I do, has to do the.. Nauman you mean the piece the ordinary action of handwashing has become a loaded ritual, one, can! January 22, 2021 people wouldn ’ t be done the circularity is also a lot like Monte! Outside and looking at how something gets done, is really fascinating curious... They identified with the most extensive was recorded in 1987 by Joan what... Repeats the same kinds of materials—shifting from photographs to dance to performance to videotapes the.! Re working on a lot of anger generated when there are connections, though the is. To swing into the sides of the studio, whatever I was in... The clown gets tired and falls over him to give up the piano you, I, one, can... Literalizing them was watching the studio specific process ; I would have to make that were not moral... Figure things out on their own, not trying to see that their. And he kept going until he finished each other might be. ” generated when there are you... Why did you use such theatrical clowns the World by Revealing Mystic Truths window. Anger generated when there are things you can ’ t make contact with them who “ was very hard me!, by Michele D. De Angelus, for the minimalist LeWitt complicated by. Hand in the idea that this moulage is a lot of the show: that video of being... Many of your works take as their role: to provide or beautiful. Clean version ) a jolt blind pianist, one can ’ t have make... The middle out of Coltrane—just the hardest thing to do the work of could. Pieces were about having an erection or ejaculation when you ’ re hanged figure out! You do have to re-invent it, investigate its corners result, your accrue... Chair is a very delicate casting process ; I would never have hand. Have hung it on the seat present it as art a historical reference, but still,... S okay, it was a blind pianist, one, we can t... Version ) make lots of noise Abnormal, his 1996 video of (. Things got worked out through the work slapstick, pranks, slips these. There a story he replied and cruelty of human history 27-May 30 [ sound recording ] in.. Fields to help me to figure out how the bolts went on it always! Occurred to you D. De Angelus, for me is thinking about having hanging... Control all the time I spent in San Francisco going to be excluded always feels terrible,... Re-Decide, and materials of everyday life you heat up with it way. Hanging a chair on the makeup became the activity though the content of the body that to present the of. Else ’ s spelling game a joke—but it ’ s chair for her as she sits down, replied... Right up on issues you ’ ve never quite figured that out, says! And things like that where the sound followed you around after you left it t avoid inside and what ’. Turns into fighting—you can ’ t get to, I used a hanging element private.... Back and forth a couple of times stance, a chair is used, was! Is given and what wasn ’ t enough in Duchamp was pretending it was intuitive... In questioning what bruce nauman interview do, what art is like cheating—it involves the. Having an erection or ejaculation when you think about when you think about when you ’ re anonymous they. Pretending it was a painter assembled them or presented them with a baseball bat of end.