From 23 May 2007 to 09 September 2007
Curated by Constance M. Lewallen.
Bruce Nauman (Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1941) amongst the most influential artist in the world, moved to Northern California in 1964 where he enrolled as a graduate student in art at UC Davis. He remained in Northern California until 1969. This exhibition celebrates and explores the seminal and productive early period of Nauman’ oeuvre. During this short period of time, he laid the foundations for all his subsequent work and revolutionized our notion of what an artwork is.
An experimental artist, he asks questions and explores how we experience the world, and how meaning is constructed through understanding that experience. By focusing closely on 1965-69, works that have never or rarely been seen publicly since mid- 1960s were uncovered and are now on view, providing a unique opportunity to assess Nauman’s contribution to contemporary art.
Nauman’s investigations into the process and meaning of art-making through sculpture, performance, film, video, photography, drawing and installation, were amongst the earliest and most radical expressions of post-minimalist artistic practice to contrast the polished spectacle and finished style of Pop Art and Minimalism. They were created at the time of political activism and social change throughout the west. Rather that adding yet more finished ‘’things’’ to the profusion of products in consumer culture, Nauman turned the process of art-making into the artwork, thus joining his own activities and the by-products of those daily activities, into a body of work where sculpture and performance are two sides of the same practice. He explored the individual experience of being through observing his physical-emotional reactions to his own body moving in real space and encountering objects within that space.
A series of observations that translated into enigmatic sculpture first in unglazed ceramic, then in fiberglass and resin, sometimes even in simple and ‘poor’ cardboard. He engaged with concerns and the floor, and placed things high above the viewer’s eye-level, or way below it. He made sculptures out of sheets of rubber that loosely hung or were folded in corners, suggesting discarded materials laying around a studio more that high art. He thus explored collapse, failure, non-functional gestures, negative space, simplicity and lack of artifice. This exhibition takes its title from Nauman’s A Rose Has No Teeth of 1966, and begins with the first two sculptures he ever made: Cup and Saucer Falling Over and Cup Merging with Its Saucer (both 1965): It provides a rare opportunity to view early examples of his fiberglass sculptures. Neon (and the relationship between language, signs and signage, perception, and thought)became the focus of a series of works that investigate the gaps and slippages in our mental associations and mechanism for constructing meaning.
These experiments are presented here through a series of key artworks including his first extant work using neon, Untitled (1965) and spiral The True Artist Helps the World By Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign) (1967). Nauman’s early films were as much about what one sees in them as they were about the filmic medium itself: in the paradoxical Sound Effects for Manipulating the T Bar (1965 ca.), for example, the viewer sees hands tapping on wood, a gesture that a sound editor might make to record a sound effect, for a film, but non sound is emitted.
While still student, in 1965-66, he also created a series of early performances in the studio based on performing simple gestures and actions such as manipulating a fluorescent tube to make body-light shapes. Some of these early performances later became a series of actions recorded on video. The videos are just as much documentation of actions as they are about the medium, language and technique of video-recording. The exhibition ends with Nauman’s first corridor structure, Performance Corridor (1969). It is the beginning of a mayor series of architectural spaces by Nauman the the viewer can enter into, and experience directly.
A Rose Has No Teeth:Bruce Nauman in the 1960’s is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many generous individuals. Special support for the Italian presentation is provided by Terra Foundation for American Art.
The exhibition was organized by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and curated by Constance M. Lewallen.