"Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts"
“Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is an extensive retrospective of the American contemporary artist Bruce Nauman. To present the exhibition, MOMA has not only dedicated the sixth floor of the museum to it but also its satellite location MOMA PS 1.
Bruce Nauman was born in 1941 in Fort Wayner, Indiana. During his childhood, his family moved around to various locations in the Midwest. He had an interest in music and played in several bands and jazz groups. However, he had no real exposure to or training in art until he was at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he decided to become an artist and graduated with a minor in painting.
He then entered the MFA program at the University of California, Davis, where he also worked as an assistant to Wayne Thiebuad. However, he became interested in three dimensional art and began exploring other less traditional materials and avenues of expression. After graduation he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and later at the University of California, Irvine.
By the late 1960s, Nauman's work had been recognized and he was having one man shows at prestigious galleries in New York and in Europe as well as at the Los Angles County Art Museum and the Whitney Museum. He was embraced by the art establishment. However, all of this attention did not suit Nauman and he moved to New Mexico where he continues to reside.
One of the first things that comes through at the MOMA exhibition is that there is no one Nauman style. The works on exhibit include sculptures, performance art, drawings, photography, video and conceptual installations. He uses different styles and materials to express his ideas. The art establishment likes to categorize artists and so Mr. Nauman is to be applauded for successfully avoiding being pigeon-holed. It is hard to think of anything more boring or more harmful to creativity than to creativity than to confine yourself to one style or medium.
Not all of Bauman's works are easy to understand. Like other forms of communication, art often has nuances and is not always straightforward. In any case, it does not really matter what the artist intended. Once a work is created, the artist no longer has control over the message. Whatever the message the viewer receives is the correct message. Thus, a work can have numerous meanings. It can mean something to one viewer and something else to another viewer. Both are valid.
Some of Mr. Nauman's works involve words, sometimes written in neon lights and sometimes in more traditional materials. In contrast to the polysyllabic babble so often used by the art establishment, these works employ short phrases. However, even here there is room for more than one meaning. For example, one work has the words “Make Me Think Me.” If you punctuate it make me, think me, it could be an observation about the creative process. However, if you punctuate it “Make me think, Me,” it could be a frustrated plea for inspiration with a signature at the end.
At the other end of the spectrum, the exhibition includes a performance in which a man assumes various poses against one of the museum walls. The viewer is asked to answer questions such as why is he doing this? Is it about the futility of modern existence? Does the fact that the man is black mean that it is a commentary on race? Once again, there is no correct answer. It is only important that it provokes the viewer to ask themselves such questions.
Along the same lines, the exhibition includes a large installation that is a series of circles. There is a large black circle suspended from the ceiling and a large white circle on the floor. There are also several smaller circles lying towards the middle. Rather than provoke a thought that one can articulate, it provokes feelings.
Mr. Nauman's works are not aesthetically pleasing. In addition, not every work will speak to everyone. However, we found it a worthwhile exploration.
Art review - Museum of Modern Art - “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”