Bruce Nauman’s (Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1941) work involves the acquisition or attempted control of the spectator’s viewing experience to an event, action or situation. The sixty-three projects that make up this retrospective exhibition, made between 1965 and 1990, are a tour where the artist proposes (and hopes for) psychological reactions and perceptive suggestions from the spectator, and in many cases includes the creations of image and sound cacophonies. The public becomes both the object and the audience faced with a piece that is about to happen, as can be seen in Get out of my mind, get out of this room (1968) or Clown Torture (1987). In his pieces he gives prominence to the body and physical action, in addition to the assumption of human scale as an artistic measure, as is evident in his pieces Neon Templates of the Left Half of my Body, Taken at Ten Inch Intervals (1966). Furthermore, because of his training as a sculptor, throughout his career, space retains a fundamental perceptive and psychological role.
Nauman rejected the practice of photography which he understood to be narrative images in favour of documented records (Self-Portrait as a fountain, Feet of clay or Eating my words, all from 1966-1967/1970). Immediately afterwards, video becomes the primary means in all his productions, either as a supporting role - visible in Art makeup (1967) or Violin tuned D.E.A.D. (1969) - or as a key element in architectural installations and sound.
Research is present as part of the creative process and thus has a presence in the pieces. In his work, which shows influences from music, dance and literature, four names acquire special importance. Gestaltism is the first major influence that stands out in Nauman's work, which is derived from his interest in phenomenology and behaviourism and which he applies - in the words of Neal Benezra, curator of the exhibition along with Katy Halbreich - to his "indignation of human behaviour regarding unpleasant or distressing situations." Other influences evident in this artist’s work are found coming from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, because of his critique of the validity of language, its meaning and its representation (Violins Violence Silence, 1981-1982), the writer Elias Canetti, because of his study on the behaviour of the masses and also writer Samuel Beckett, because his bleak idea of man’s destiny.
From his sculptures that include hanging elements (chairs and animals) during the late Seventies, the metaphors that underpin his work have a political character and or concern racial and gender conflicts. In this way, in many pieces he refers to the current situation in South America, apartheid in South Africa or the death penalty: South American Triangle (1981), Good boy, bad boy (1985), Hanged man (1985). As noted by Benezra, Nauman "successfully integrates our consciousness with our feelings. In his works, we do what we see", showing public submission of the public faced with the messages and images imposed.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA (April 9 - June 19, 1994); Museum of Contemporary Art MoCA, Los Angeles (July 1 - September 25, 1994); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, Washington DC (November 3, 1994 - January 29, 1995); Museum of Modern Art MoMA, New York (March 1 - May 23, 1995)