Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) is an influential conceptual artist whose provocative works span many different media. Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Nauman studied art, math, and physics at the University of Wisconsin and in 1966 he earned an MFA at the University of California at Davis. In the late 1960s, Nauman taught at the San Francisco Art Institute while beginning his own career as an artist. His early works include sculptural body castings, holograms, and films made in collaboration with William Allan and Robert Nelson.
Nauman’s works often feature language and wordplay, often using neon signage or prints, to investigate existential and psychological themes. Throughout his career, many of his performances and artworks have explored the concept of perception in relation to one’s body. Enforced Perspective: Allegory and Symbolism (1975), for example, is an interactive installation of groupings of steel slabs that create shifts in perspective as a viewer walks among them. His explorations of perception frequently take the form of works that force viewers into uncomfortable situations, such as traversing the claustrophobic space of Green Light Corridor (1970) or watching the disturbing, malevolent clown in the video installation Clown Torture (1987).
In addition to his work in other media, Nauman has consistently created prints that concern language and wordplay. In 1970, he began working with Cirrus Editions in Los Angeles where he explored lithography and intaglio and experimented with the use of non-traditional tools. Nauman’s engagement with the making of books has not been extensive. Primary among his works in the book format are CLEA RSKY (1969) and L A AIR (1970), featuring in the former images of clear blue skies and in the latter the polluted air of Los Angeles. His Burning Small Fires (1968) is one of the many books made as humorous riffs on Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk. Nauman’s take consists of photographs of the burning of Ruscha’s book.
Bruce Nauman’s work may be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. He is the recipient of many awards including the Max Beckmann Prize (1990), the Wexner Prize (1994), and the Praemium Imperiale Prize for Visual Arts, Japan (2004). His work has been the subject of retrospectives organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1993-95) and the Kunstmuseum Wolfburg (1997). In 2009, he created the installation Topological Gardens for the Venice Biennale.
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