Exhibition — 5 Jun until 24 Oct 2021

In collaboration with Tate Modern, the Stedelijk Museum presents the largest overview of the American artist Bruce Nauman in the Netherlands up to now. This exhibition spans a period of more than fifty years. The selection includes works that have rarely or never been shown, works that propelled his creative focus in a new direction and spatial works that invite the viewer to share in an immersive experience.

*During the Bruce Nauman and Kirchner and Nolde exhibitions (running until December 5, 2021), there’s an additional one-off surcharge of €3.

The Stedelijk Museum presents a comprehensive overview of the American artist Bruce Nauman. For over fifty years, Nauman has continually tested and reinvented what an artwork can be. His use of an eclectic range of media and unbridled urge to experiment makes him a key figure within art today. Nauman is an important source of inspiration and a benchmark for younger generations of artists. His interest in ambiguity and shades of meaning relates to everyday human experience, where certainty is not always guaranteed. The exhibition reflects Nauman’s preoccupation with themes such as the body, language, control, and the artist’s studio. Nauman’s work is disruptive, penetrating, absurd, and playful, and is often a physical as well as mental experience.

Bruce Nauman, 'Seven Figures', 1985. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Bruce Nauman, 'Seven Figures', 1985. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Washing Hands Abnormal', 1996. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
    Bruce Nauman, 'Washing Hands Abnormal', 1996. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Studies for Holograms' (e), 1970. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.
    Bruce Nauman, 'Studies for Holograms' (e), 1970. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Pay Attention', 1973. Uitgegeven door Gemini G.E.L. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam / Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
    Bruce Nauman, 'Pay Attention', 1973. Uitgegeven door Gemini G.E.L. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam / Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Hanged Man', 1985. D.Daskalopoulos Collection. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Bruce Nauman, 'Hanged Man', 1985. D.Daskalopoulos Collection. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Falls, Pratfalls and Sleights of Hand (Clean Version)', 1993. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Bruce Nauman, 'Falls, Pratfalls and Sleights of Hand (Clean Version)', 1993. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor)', 1999. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
    Bruce Nauman, 'Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor)', 1999. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
  • Bruce Nauman, 'My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon', 1968. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam / Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
    Bruce Nauman, 'My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon', 1968. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam / Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square', 1968. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Foto: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
    Bruce Nauman, 'Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square', 1968. Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Foto: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
  • Bruce Nauman, 'Walks in Walks Out' (still), 2015. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.
    Bruce Nauman, 'Walks in Walks Out' (still), 2015. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.

Expanding boundaries

Since the 1960s, Bruce Nauman (1941) has been reshaping the boundaries of art. For Nauman, everything starts with an idea, which can take shape in many ways—as a sculpture, text, sound, neon light, or filmed action or interaction. In the late 1960s, when neon lighting was exclusively used in advertising signage, Nauman embraced this visually appealing, entrancing medium in his art. He often plays with the formal and psychological nature of language, with works that contain puns, anagrams, or palindromes, such as Eat / Death (1972). Nauman also frequently uses his own body, elevating the most commonplace actions to art, like in the video installation Washing Hands Abnormal (1996). Driven by the question of what it means to be an artist, he physically explores the boundaries of his studio in several video works, to conclude that everything he does in that space must be art.

[If] I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.

— Bruce Nauman
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, One Hundred Live and Die, 1984, coll. Benesse Holdings, Inc./Benesse House Museum, Naoshima. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, One Hundred Live and Die, 1984, coll. Benesse Holdings, Inc./Benesse House Museum, Naoshima. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Clockwise: Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983; Musical Chairs,1983; Carousel, 1988; Bruce Nauman, My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, 1968. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman
    Installation view. Clockwise: Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983; Musical Chairs,1983; Carousel, 1988; Bruce Nauman, My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, 1968. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Black Marble Under Yellow Light, 1987, coll. Fundacion "la Caixa", Barcelona. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Black Marble Under Yellow Light, 1987, coll. Fundacion "la Caixa", Barcelona. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Black Marble Under Yellow Light, 1987, coll. Fundacion "la Caixa", Barcelona. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Black Marble Under Yellow Light, 1987, coll. Fundacion "la Caixa", Barcelona. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983, coll. Sammlung Froehlich, Stuttgart. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983, coll. Sammlung Froehlich, Stuttgart. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Studies for Holograms (a-e), 1970, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.  Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, Studies for Holograms (a-e), 1970, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Right Society (ARS), Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Left: Hanged Man, 1985; right: Bouncing in the Corner, No.1 (1968), Violin tuned D E A D (1969), Wall-Floor Positions (1968), Electronic Arts Intermix, (EAI), New York, NY. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman
    Installation view. Left: Hanged Man, 1985; right: Bouncing in the Corner, No.1 (1968), Violin tuned D E A D (1969), Wall-Floor Positions (1968), Electronic Arts Intermix, (EAI), New York, NY. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman
  • Installation view. Left: Bruce Nauman, Musical Chairs, 1983, private collection; My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, 1968, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Left: Bruce Nauman, Musical Chairs, 1983, private collection; My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, 1968, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
  • Installation view. Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967, coll. Kunstmuseum Basel. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
    Installation view. Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967, coll. Kunstmuseum Basel. Photo: Peter Tijhuis © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam

Confronting

Nauman engages with major themes in his work that affect many: life, death, sex, love, violence, frustration, and helplessness. His commentary on the human condition is at the very heart of his oeuvre and leads to confrontational images and messages. For example, the monumental neon work One Hundred Live and Die (1984) consists of ultra-short one-liners that flicker on and off, one by one, which can be read as an ever-changing series of declarations about life and death. Death also permeates the sinister Carousel (1988), in which a steel merry-go-round from which gray animal carcasses are suspended jerkily rotates, dragging the creatures along the floor. The colorful neon work Seven Figures (1985), on the other hand, looks cheerful, and yet the figures performing sexual acts in an endless repetition move so mechanically and monotonously, stripped of any erotic tension, that the effect is both hilarious and discomfiting.

Absurd and disruptive 

Bruce Nauman’s work is disruptive—he plays with expectations and perceptions. Many of his works invite interaction. Visitors can enter the labyrinthine Double Steel Cage (1974), and are obliged to keep moving in order to catch a fleeting image of themselves in Going Around the Corner Piece with Live and Taped Monitors (1970). Movement is also essential to read the text of The True Artists Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967). Which raises the question, does Nauman actually mean this statement to be taken seriously, and do we agree? At times, Nauman’s work is also tragicomic and absurd, like Clown Torture (1987), one of his earliest and best-known video installations. A clown performs a series of repetitious actions in a variety of situations that always end in failure; the work gradually transforms slapstick humor into horror. Black Marble Under Yellow Light (1981–1988) is physically disorienting and challenges visitors’ perceptions. Are the marble blocks and floor in this space level or not?

Bruce Nauman, 'Clown Torture', 1987. © 2021. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence.
Bruce Nauman, 'Clown Torture', 1987. © 2021. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence.

One of the central themes in Nauman’s oeuvre is repetition, which appears in his work as endless movements, loops, and rotation. The artist also often returns to his earlier works in new artworks. Walks In Walks Out (2015), the exhibition’s most recent piece, references his studio walks of the 1960s.

Bruce Nauman and the Stedelijk 

Both museums and private collectors in the Netherlands purchased work by Bruce Nauman early in his career. As a young artist, he participated in the groundbreaking group exhibition Op losse schroeven (1969) at the Stedelijk, on which occasion the museum acquired the neon work My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon. The Stedelijk continued to collect his work; in the mid-1990s, Rudi Fuchs added a number of important pieces to the collection, such as Seven Figures, Setting a Good Corner and Washing Hands Abnormal.

About the exhibition

Following previous exhibitions, which focused on specific parts of his oeuvre, this is the largest overview of Bruce Nauman’s work in the Netherlands to date. The exhibition consists of more than forty works, including several large, room-filling (video) installations. The selection includes works that have rarely or never been shown and traces the central themes that characterize Nauman’s oeuvre. The emphasis is on works that propelled his creative focus in a new direction and spatial works that invite the viewer to share in an immersive experience.

Longread

In this essay, curator Leontine Coelewij, one of the curators of the exhibition, examines the significance of Nauman’s work for the Stedelijk Museum.

Catalogue

The survey is accompanied by a publication that includes introductory essays and a conversation between Bruce Nauman, Nicholas Serota, former director of Tate Modern, and Andrea Lissoni, former curator International Art (Film) Tate Modern, both of whom co-curated the exhibition. (NL/EN, 176 pp, Tate Publishing, ISBN 978-90-500621-4-5)

Bruce Nauman, 'The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign)', 1967. Kunstmuseum Basel. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam
Bruce Nauman, 'The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign)', 1967. Kunstmuseum Basel. © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Pictoright Amsterdam

The exhibition Bruce Nauman is organised by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Tate Modern, London in collaboration with Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, Milan.

Curated by Leontine Coelewij, Curator Contemporary Art Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, former Curator Contemporary Art Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Andrea Lissoni, former Senior Curator (International Art), Film, Tate Modern, Nicholas Serota, former Director Tate and Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

The exhibition is generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, benefactors of the Stedelijk Museum Fonds, Fonds21, the Blockbusterfonds, Turing Foundation, Zabawas Foundation and the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte.