But art is like cheating—it involves inverting the rules or taking the game apart and changing it. On the other hand, they are essentially linguistic plays, which means abstracting them. Some still do. In games like football or baseball cheating is allowed to a certain extent. 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. Smithsonian Archives of American Art: creatorOf: Nauman, Bruce, 1941-. If I stop and try to look at how I got the last piece done, it doesn’t help me with the next one. And since everybody was broke, I could rent pretty good 16mm equipment for $5 or $6 a day—essentially the cost of gas to bring it over. As a statement, it’s hokey, ridiculous – but perhaps, on some level, true. It didn’t look right, so I ended up raising it. Description: Jan Butterfield interview with Bruce Nauman on May 29, 1974. It’s a dangerous situation and I think that what I was doing, and what I am going to do and what most of us probably do, is to use the tension between what you tell and what you don’t tell as part of the work. I’m curious about the thought process that went into conceiving those works. People wouldn’t put up with it, it’s too mean. Lenny Tristano was a blind pianist, one of the original—or maybe second generation—bebop guys. As Nauman explained, in works such as White Breathing he was engaging in what he described as 'examinations of physical and psychological response to simple or even oversimplified situations which can yield clearly experiencable phenomena' (Bruce Nauman interview with Joan Simon, 'Breaking the Silence' Art in America 76(9), September 1988, p. 14 quoted in N. Benezra, 'Surveying Nauman', ed. In the 1986 video work Violent Incident, a smartly dressed couple are at a table set for cocktails and dinner – but the date soon descends into a vicious brawl. It just gave me encouragement. And about how people can be cruel to each other. You know, it’s so angry it scares people. It’s been taken out of the game situation. There was a period in American art, in the ’60s, when artists presented parts of works, so that people could arrange them. There didn’t seem to be any problem with using different kinds of materials—shifting from photographs to dance to performance to videotapes. There is an immediacy and an intrusiveness about sound that you can’t avoid. Maybe the morality I sense in Man Ray has to do with the fact that while he made his living as a fashion photographer, his art works tended to be jokes—stupid jokes. NAUMAN  Negative space for me is thinking about the underside and the backside of things. And, perhaps, another sort of discipline too. 4 Black grew out of his interest in questioning what artists do, what art is, and how it is made. I think he may have hung it on the wall. Unsettling … video work Anthro/Socio (Rinde Spinning). 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. We all sat back down and discussed what my role might be.”. See the renowned permanent collection and special exhibitions. But the title hints at its subject matter and begins to explicate its intense emotional and political presence. I had been primed for long silences and monosyllables, but Nauman is gentle and affable, full of stories about a past peopled with the greats of postwar US culture: Jasper Johns, John Cage, Merce Cunningham. But is this it? This seems considerably more aggressive than the earlier work, though the content is still covert, an extremely private meditation. One thing which hadn’t occurred to me when I was making the film was that when you take a solid color of makeup—no matter what color—it flattens the image of the face on film. The takes vary because at some point the clown gets tired and falls over. But it turns out that this moulage is a very old, traditional kind of material, and was often used this way. To present yourself through your work is obviously part of being an artist. NAUMAN  Sure there are connections, though not in any direct way. N. … Bruce Nauman is notoriously reticent. Then I would stop the tape. It’s a way of structuring something so that you don’t have to make a story. ART21: Is there a story behind the stairs? She grabs the cocktail glass and throws the drink in his face. The music is always going on. SIMON  Recently, you’ve returned to video for the first time since the late ’60s. You gave that up very early on. It isn’t specific, I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s there, I feel it’s there. If you don’t want people to see that self, you put on makeup. But of course you do have to continually rediscover and re-decide, and it’s awful. Being from the west coast, I’d probably had it at noon, and it was probably 1.30pm. They become masks, they don’t become individuals. It’s not that there is someone in particular you emulate. It still puzzles me how I made decisions in those days about what was possible and what wasn’t. Once the figure is complete, the whole picture starts to be recreated again. You could see things you don’t normally see—or think about—on people’s skin. And about how people refuse to understand other people. All Rights reserved. I’ve also used the children’s game “musical chairs” a number of times. Or, I should say, each of the clowns repeats the same story. His approach was to step outside the problem. SIMON  Do you see your work as part of a continuum with other art or other artists? “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. Video by Bruce Nauman. 2 Pink, No. I found the stuff at some police shop. The footage for the seven large projections that constitute 2001’s Mapping the Studio II with Color Shift, Flip, Flop, & Flip/Flop (Fat Chance John Cage) was gathered overnight, the equipment set running while the artist retreated. You couldn’t get away with that without makeup. 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. The moulage is a kind of gel you heat up. The triangle became a barrier to approaching the chair from the outside. Still, how to proceed is always the mystery. Because your imagination is left to deal with that isolation, the image becomes more powerful, in the same way that the murder offstage can be more powerful than if it took place right in front of you. SIMON  Nevertheless, many of your works take as their starting point very specific children’s games. Bruce Nauman’s work functions as an eerie societal litmus test. I worked with the most accurate casting material I could find, something called moulage. The chair is a central element in the action and the whole tape centers on a cruel joke. At one museum, when it was in the middle of the show, you heard the sound before you actually got to the piece. In a way, it was about control. But it seemed to work about as well either way. SIMON  That sense of frustration and anger also becomes the viewer’s problem in approaching and making sense of your work, especially a piece as disturbing as South American Triangle. 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. 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. NAUMAN  That film—which was also later a video­tape—has a rather simple story behind it. But artists are always interested in some level of communication. ” ’ ”. It’s like a print I did that says, “Pay attention motherfuckers” [1973). I didn’t want to have to go through all that every time. Since I couldn’t cast myself, I used my wife as the model. I finally realized that the most straightforward way to present the idea would be to cast that entire section of the body. At some point in the nineteenth century, a mathematician—I can’t remember his name—proved it can’t be done. In my piece you’re not allowed to participate—the parts of the figure are put into place without you. There is a lot of anger generated when there are things you can’t get to. He’d get ’em down on the ground and pound on him.”. Bruce Nauman. © Art21, Inc. 2001. Visit the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Guggenheim Museum in NYC, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. SIMON  No, I didn’t. Nauman, Bruce, 1941-. My first idea was to have a hand in the mouth with some kind of connection—a bar, or some kind of mechanical connection. Or is it? But of course it was more than that because musical chairs is also a cruel game. A video work of his detritus-filled studio is what visitors to Tate Modern will see as soon as they enter the exhibition; the real thing is on the ranch near Santa Fe in New Mexico, where he has lived for over 30 years. It helped me to name names, to name things. Here we revisit at an interview from 1973, when Nauman had a retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art. I think it was Jasper Johns who said, “Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious.”. The only thing that was allowed … Nauman’s early film Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square. Now this action takes all of about eighteen seconds. I mean, I do, and I think Richard Serra does. NAUMAN  The first corridor pieces were about having someone else do the performance. The irony is thick; the aesthetic charge is dazzling as Nauman sets up a rhythmic counterpoint that in its insistence challenges you and forces you to attend to the large issues. I really don’t know if it’s a myth or not. … The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign). Did you know that? Other times, we just stuck the speakers in the corners of the room and played the tape—like when the walls were too hard to build into. Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up: No. Art that was just there all at once. 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. SIMON  In your tape Clown Torture (1987), the clowns don’t act like clowns. JOAN SIMON What do you think about when you’re working on a piece? It was conducted for the 1988 documentary Four Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce, Nauman, Susan Rothenberg. These things help to determine the scale of the work and the weight of the material. NAUMAN  When I moved to New Mexico and was in Pecos in ‘79, I was thinking about a piece that had to do with political torture. Art ought to have a moral value, a moral stance, a position. NAUMAN  When I was in school I was a painter. He’s on a lot of the best early bebop records. And the sound followed you around after you left it. A lot of things got worked out through the work. 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. Rather than struggling inside the problem, by stepping outside of it, he showed that it was not possible to do it at all. In the video Walks In Walks Out (2015), he is no longer the lithe figure of the 1960s but inhabits an ageing body that has seen a great deal of life. Bruce Nauman’s wildly influential, relentlessly imitated work explores the poetics of confusion, anxiety, boredom, entrapment, and failure. I don’t know where it came from or how I managed to do it because it’s so simple and straightforward. The problem with that approach is that it turns art into game playing. SIMON  A number of early pieces specifically capture what’s “not there.” I’m thinking about the casts of “invisible spaces”: the space between two crates on the floor, for example, or the “negative” space under a chair. The jester and the Baroque type are the oldest, but they are pretty recognizable types. 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. That kid doesn’t get to play anymore, has nothing to do, has to stand in the corner or whatever. Bruce Nauman is an uncompromising, physical, and confrontational artist and Eat/War is a characteristic political challenge that alternates staccato flashes in vivid neon colors of green and red. It can only go so far and then real life steps in. 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. It had been a grocery store, and in the window there was still a beer sign which you read from the outside. What is given and what is withheld become the work. You could make neon signs, you could make written pieces, you could make jokes about parts of the body or casting things, or whatever. ‘To keep me busy’, he replied. NAUMAN  I was interested in the logic and structure of math and especially how you could turn that logic inside out. Also, when you think about vaudeville clowns or circus clowns, there is a lot of cruelty and meanness. What it conveys to me is the idea of the studio as, on the one hand, something familiar and everyday; and on the other, a vast and mysterious territory, full of potential incident and drama that the artist cannot control. They were picked because they have a historical reference, but they are still anonymous. SIMON  What David Whitney wrote about your Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor (1967)—that “it is a direct statement on how the artist lives, works and thinks”—could apply in general to the variety of works you made in your San Francisco studio from 1966-68. I wonder what he reads, though. The chairs didn’t have to be on the floor to function. 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. The same ideas and procedures, the same kind of image, whether something was suspended in water, in earth, in air. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the neck. Then I made the wax cast, which became very super-realistic—hyper-realistic. But game-playing doesn’t involve any responsibility—any moral responsibility—and I think that being an artist does involve moral responsibility. But as she sits down, he pulls the chair out from under her and she falls on the floor. SIMON  There seems to be something particularly ominous about your use of chairs—both in this and other works. On the other hand, that’s what’s interesting about making art, and why it’s worth doing: it’s never going to be the same, there is no method. He slaps her, she knees him in the groin and, as he’s doubling over, he grabs a knife from the table. And I think that it is one of those pieces that I can go back to. 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. It’s not that I think I can change that, but it’s just such a frustrating part of human history. Merce was late. Major themes in the interview include creating funk sculpture in the San Francisco Bay area, Nauman's relationship with other artists, the process of creating his art, the experience and understanding of his art, and running art shows. How did he know? Simon published substantial excerpts from the conversation in our September 1988 issue. It seemed that if I didn’t think of myself as a painter, then it would be possible to continue. Then he just quit. 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. The flatness itself was another kind of mask. Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. For instance, how did From Hand to Mouth come about? I’m thinking of the architectural installations, in particular the very narrow corridor pieces. I started with white. 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. 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. He’d get ’em down on the ground and pound on him.”. Bruce Nauman: 'Jasper Johns poured me a few bourbons – and my legs gave way'. 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. Or in Man Ray, who also interests me. Part of it has to do with an idea of beauty. According to this account of his routine, Nauman never makes any art, which of course isn’t true. Nauman’s famous neon sculpture, the one that says “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths” will be installed at the entrance to the exhibition. I ended up drawing on music and dance and literature, using thoughts and ideas from other fields to help me continue to work. 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. . Production still from the Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 1 episode, Identity. That was all you got. From the beginning I was trying to see if I could make art that did that. But it didn’t help me to make the piece. But basically I couldn’t function as a painter. It was the artist Sol LeWitt who got him on to crime fiction, he says. One of the men said, ‘Tell us a story, Jack.’ And Jack said, ‘It was a dark and stormy night. I was watching the studio at night and I was following Lewis and Clark. Subscribe today and save up to 33%! NAUMAN  With the clown videotape, there are four different clown costumes: one of them is the Emmett Kelly dumb clown; one is the old French Baroque clown (I guess it’s French); one is a sort of traditional polka-dot, red-haired, oversize­shoed clown; and one is a jester. “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. You finally lose the game if you complete the figure—if you hang the man. It’s just an awful thing to have to do. I realized I would never have a specific process; I would have to re-invent it, over and over again. NAUMAN  Violent Incident begins with what is supposed to be a joke—but it’s a mean joke. Pacing around, for example. In a year when the ordinary action of handwashing has become a loaded ritual, one can’t help but feel a jolt. “I probably had the violin around for a month or two before I made the film,” Nauman said in an interview conducted at San Jose State College in 1970 with Willoughby Sharp. I begin to see a part that I hadn’t considered, that becomes more important, and that develops into an offshoot.”. 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. “I had a friend in high school who was a little bit of a loner,” says the artist, speaking by phone from New York. 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? But it was very hard for me to give up that much control. You know, they used it to cast tire prints and things like that. There was also the idea that if I was in the studio, whatever I was doing was art. It would be like taking the middle out of Coltrane—just the hardest, toughest part of it. 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. It was a Shaker idea, you know. 1 White, No. The symbol is more powerful. Get our latest stories in the feed of your favorite networks. So there were a lot of people who thought art had a function beyond being beautiful—that it had a social reason to exist. 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. It’s hard to make any contact with an idea or an abstraction. 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. “I’ve always had overlapping ways of going about my work,” Bruce Nauman once remarked. I haven’t heard it for a few years, but the last time I did I was impressed with how strong it was. One of the men said, “Tell us a story, Jack.” And Jack said, “It was a dark and stormy night …. And it’s really a frightening piece. Something interesting happened to them every single day, or at least it seemed that way to me.” This is a typically oblique story of Nauman’s. But then when I built it so that the chair hung low enough to swing into the triangle, it was too low. In this interview, Bruce Nauman talks about how he came to use stairs as a recurring motif in his work. In this interview, Bruce Nauman talks about how he came to use stairs as a recurring motif in his work. Again, it becomes something you can’t get to. Standing outside and looking at how something gets done, or doesn’t get done, is really fascinating and curious. They had peg boards that ran around the wall, so they could pick up all the furniture and keep the floors clean. The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is crime and thrillers, John le Carré being a favourite. through more than 40 works, the exhibition at tate modern — simply titled ‘bruce nauman’ — explores the distinctive themes that have preoccupied nauman during his 50-year career. That deep understanding of how his body worked – that was important for me.”. You didn’t get any introduction, you didn’t get any tail—you just got full intensity for two minutes or twenty minutes or whatever. Then I added the bit about having an erection or ejaculation when you’re hanged. His practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking, and performance. And then torture has to take place in a room (or at least I was thinking in terms of it taking place in a room), but I couldn’t figure out how to build a room and how to put the chair in it. While making it, he was also reading the journal of the 1803 expedition – led by Meriweather Lewis and William Clark – to what became the north-western US. Because it was in a separate room, the sound was baffled; you only got the higher tones. But you do see other artists asking the same kinds of questions and responding with some kind of integrity. In this case though, we’re talking about a big steel sculpture hanging from the ceiling, with the chair isolated and suspended upside-down in the middle of the steel barrier. The artist, about to be the subject of a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, is interested in the moment a social ritual or game pivots into cruelty. 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. A shy and small youth, Nauman enjoyed reading, and studied piano, guitar, and upright bass. We want to hear from you! Reading the Naipaul clarified things for me and helped me continue. About twenty years ago—this was in ‘66 and ‘67—I was living in San Francisco, and I had access to a lot of film equipment. 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. The hostile overlayering of angry noises contributes enormously to the tension of Violent Incident. It is true that he is politely evasive about the art: for him, it seems, meaning is for the viewer to find, not for the artist to offer. That was really depressing. NAUMAN  I do see art that way. 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. “If someone hit him with a snowball when we were walking to school, he wouldn’t just throw a snowball back, he’d attack. NAUMAN  I think about Lenny Tristano a lot. In fact, at that time, a number of artists were talking about art as though it were some kind of game you could play. 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. SIMON  That’s sort of the subliminal version of a very aggressive sound piece you used to install invisibly in empty rooms, isn’t it? Or I load it emotionally in a way that it is not supposed to be loaded. I just put one on over the other, so that by the time the last one went on it was almost black. “Usually I am just sitting reading in it with my feet up.” Then, after lunch, he says: “If I go back to the studio, I fall asleep in the chair for a while.”. “If someone hit him with a snowball when we were walking to school, he wouldn’t just throw a snowball back, he’d attack. NAUMAN  When I take the game, I take it out of context and apply it to moral or political situations. NAUMAN  Casting the space under a chair was the sculptural version of de Kooning’s statement: “When you paint a chair, you should paint the space between the rungs, not the chair itself.” I was thinking like that: about leftovers and negative spaces. Slapstick, pranks, slips: these are recurring tropes in Nauman’s art. I was fascinated by mathematical problems, particularly the one called “squaring the circle.” You know, for hundreds of years mathematicians tried to find a geometrical way of finding a square equal in area to a circle—a formula where you could construct one from the other. Their sparing form was dictated by necessity as much as anything. .”. For one thing, they’re not mute. Bruce Nauman is notoriously reticent. And then the game doesn’t end. He poured me a bourbon. It intentionally embarrasses someone and triggers the action. Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941) is an American artist. In my case, putting on the makeup became the activity. Then there is the particularly American idea about morality that has to do with the artist as workman. In the late 1960s, he made a group of video pieces, including the self-explanatory Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square. B ruce Nauman is telling me a story from his childhood. I don’t work that way. I think the hardest thing to do is to present an idea in the most straightforward way. 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. In one of them, the viewer who could deal with walking down such a long claustrophobic passage would approach a video monitor on which were seen disconcerting and usually “invisible” glimpses of his or her own back. Bruce Nauman finds inspiration in the activities, speech, and materials of everyday life. Think of the electric chair, or that chair they put you in when the police shine the lights on you. “I had a friend in high school who was a little bit of a loner,” says the artist, speaking by phone from New York. It’s actually a very delicate casting process; you could pick up fingerprints in the dust with it. 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Give up that much control feels terrible man neon piece [ 1985 ] derives from the inside, of you! Him on to crime fiction, he has given only a handful of interviews anyone you know they. Think about when you were making this piece Monte Young ’ s so angry it scares.. It seemed that if I could find, something called moulage assembled or! And it was a profession considerably more aggressive than the earlier work, ” says Nauman fell on knees. Role might be. ” art makeup film we talked about, but they pretty. Her as she sits down all from the outside questions and responding with some kind of gel heat! Mexico, 2000 re not allowed to participate of communication think about vaudeville clowns or clowns. Think he May have hung it on the ground and pound on him. ” bruce nauman interview anyone in particular very. Problem with that without makeup artists asking the same ideas and procedures, the hanged man neon piece [ ]! The main thing you heard throughout the Museum was “ Asshole!.! 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