|The Big Picture
The New York Times Magazine, pp. 40-41
26 April 2009
If youre feeling generous, the work of Bruce Nauman can be described as challenging or controversial. Hostile, if youre feeling less so. Or, as the artist himself once put it in the pages of this magazine, its like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Nauman, who over the past several decades has plied a variety of media from sculpture to sound and who, at 67, is widely regarded as the most influential artist of his generation, will represent the United States at this years Venice Biennial, which opens to the public June 7. If, as Adam Gopnik proposed in The New Yorker back in 1995, Naumans art earns its aggravations through its perfect pitch for the ugly tenor of contemporary American life, then the choice of Nauman is indeed an inspired one.
Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a three-part affair, consisting of a sort of greatest-hits exhibition at the United States Pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale, which will include his now-legendary 1967 neon piece, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), and a pair of new sound pieces installed off-site at the Università Iuav di Venezia and the Università Ca Foscari. On these pages, Nauman is photographed in his studio in New Mexico, at work on one of the sound pieces. (The thin white panels hanging from the ceiling are speakers.) Im very uncomfortable with a clean, empty studio, he says. Usually, I only clean whatever area I need for a project.
The diminutive, neoclassical Biennial pavilion is not an ideal venue in which to experience sound (or at least not at the volume Nauman favors, as anyone who experienced his successful takeover of the Tate Moderns massive Turbine Hall in 2004 can attest); the other sites around Venice allowed him to further his exploration of boundaries public and private, physical and psychological, individual and national. Well, the sound and the space the sound occupies are tangible material, Nauman explains. This particular audio piece did not particularly pertain to Venice, but the idea was sufficiently general that I was able to work with performers and a studio to expand it. We also recreated in Venice an earlier work with the help of local performers. Specific details of the sound pieces have yet to be revealed, but if the studio is an accurate reflection of the artists state of mind, it will definitely feel like an American moment.
- Alix Browne