The late 1960s and early 1970s in America were definitely marked by major social upheavals such as student protests, the rise of the feminist movement and Stonewall riots. In such a climate, a number of artists started producing critically engaged works as a reaction to what was happening around them. The leading art movement of that period was conceptual art which, among many other things, embraced the use of unconventional media such as video, installation, performance, etc. One of the most interesting figures who never conveyed explicitly to any particular style, yet experimented much by mixing the characteristic of then tendencies (Conceptualism, Minimalism, Performance and Video art) was Bruce Nauman.
The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 are currently jointly hosting a grandiose retrospective of this renowned artist. The exhibition spreads in both two venues and it features an array of works produced in different mediums, from drawing, printmaking, photography, over sculpture to neon, performance, film, video, and architecturally scaled environments, created by the artist during his more than four decades-long career.
The Importance of Being Nauman
Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts is organized by a curatorial team led by Kathy Halbreich, Laurenz Foundation Curator and Advisor to the Director of The Museum of Modern Art. Halbreich stated:
Few artists are able to sustain this level of the relentless invention over a 50-year career. Nauman has spent half a century devising new forms to convey both the moral hazards and the thrill of being alive. His work has continuously explored how spatial and psychological tensions—provoked by shifting perceptions of time, sound, language, and movement—structure human experience.
One hundred and sixty-five artworks occupy the Museum’s entire sixth floor and the whole space of MoMA PS1 offering a thorough insight in Bruce Nauman’s practice. Naturally, the physicality of each individual space dictated the exhibition design and the arrangement of the works. On the sixth floor galleries are some of the artist’s largest early sculptures derived from his own body to room-size installations. On the other hand, MoMA PS1 houses thematically organized works which show the recurrence of key concepts across the decades.
The Opening Lecture of Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts at MoMA
Bruce Nauman at MoMA
Bruce Nauman has been collaborating with the museum for a really long time. A number of eighty of his works made in different periods belong to MoMA’s collection, and this respectable institution organized the last major traveling retrospective of his work in 1995 (co-curated by Halbreich).
It is important to add that this particular survey of Nauman’s practice features the US premiere of two works such as Leaping Foxes made this year as a large-scale sculptural installation, and Contrapposto Split from 2017, his 3-D video projection. A large-scale and rarely seen work Kassel Corridor (Elliptical Space) from 1972 will be on view in New York for the first time and during the exhibition live performances of Wall/Floor Positions (first staged by Nauman in 1965) based on a 1968 video.
Finally, this astonishing retrospective, as the very title may suggest, is actually a renewed interpretation and sort of a mapping of the escapist strategy which is recurrent during his entire career. The audience has a chance to explore how this artist expressed literal and figurative incidents of removal, deflection, and concealment. Withdrawal and vanishing are the themes which seem to haunt Nauman which makes his works in a sync with contemporaneity colored with social and political absurdity.
This richly illustrated catalog offers a comprehensive view of Nauman’s work in all mediums, spanning drawings across the decades; early fiberglass sculptures; sound environments; architecturally scaled, participatory constructions; rhythmically blinking neons; and the most recent 3D video that harks back to one of his earliest performances. A wide range of authors―curators, artists and historians of art, architecture and film―focus on topics that have been largely neglected, such as the architectural models that posit real or imaginary sites as models for ethical inquiry and mechanisms of control.
Featured images: Bruce Nauman- Disappearing Act, Installation views, MoMA PS1 and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (October 21, 2018–February 25, 2019, at MoMA and MoMA PS1). © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Martin Seck
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