What you see is not always as it appears. This is one of the biggest aspects to artist Bruce Nauman’s work that has remained intact over the last several decades. “Disappearing Acts,” which first originated in Schaulager in Münchenstein, Switzerland and has now come to the US. The retrospective, which opened this month at both MoMA and MoMA PS1, Nauman has managed to both challenge and defy his audience yet again. The show features a staggering 160+ works. It is an expensive exhibition and showcases both Nauman’s reach as an artist and the breadth of his work.
Since Nauman emerged in the art world in the 1960s, the sheer versatility of his art has been apparent. Working across multiple media from sculpture, performance, video, drawing, and more Nauman is arguably one of the most important artists to emerge out of the 20th and 21st centuries. Born in 1941, Nauman would go onto to study philosophy, mathematics, and art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he graduated from in 1964. In 1965, he continued to pursue his studies as an MFA student at UC Davis. After graduate school, Nauman worked as an adjunct professor and eventually found his way to NYC where he fell in with a number of other conceptual and minimal artists working at the time.
“Too many people, Nauman’s influence is hard to fathom. Ever since his first show, in 1966, at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles, his prickly, uningratiating work has disturbed viewers, infuriated more than a few critics, and fascinated artists,” writes Calvin Tompkins in a 2009 piece for the New Yorker.
Tompkins assertion is right. Nauman, has, over the years disturbed viewers and has challenged the way people view art and approach his work overall. It is as much about the myth of who Nauman is in the art world, and how his work has evolved that has made him an anomaly that continues to capture his audience. The 1970s were incredibly productive period for the artist and he made a number of works. In 1971, Nauman had his first solo show at the Whitney Museum of Art which was on the heels of a solo show in LA in 1968.
Famously elusive, Nauman has taken long breaks from making work, and the art world, and even left New York City in 1979 for the safety of New Mexico. In the Southwest, Nauman settled down and bought and operated a ranch he still owns today. The ranch, as well as the cowboy motif, become a recurring theme in his work over the last few decades.
Despite Nauman’s popularity among art insiders, he is still not as well known to the general public. In an effort to better get to know an artist who has had such an influence on his generation, here are five of Nauman’s most important works that are in the current retrospective at MoMA.