[27-year old Nauman’s contortions…..]
A continued meditation on Bruce Nauman while it is still in my head.
Waking up with my coffee and reading the handful of articles on Nauman this morning gave me pause. The coverage is in support of the current retrospective of his work up at The Museum of Modern Art right now. Nauman’s art has always been thought provoking and sometimes way too much. Example A as noted in one of the reviews would be his Clown Torture video, which is far too freighted with annoyance for my own personal taste.
What I am parsing out though is an example how aging and physical limitations have impacted the work, which has always explored the plight of being human.
I know I am just regurgitating the NYT article here but I think this passage is worth noting:
A 16-millimeter masterwork from 1968, “Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square,” shows the artist in a white T-shirt and dark pants toeing the line of a square in an empty studio, stopping to strike an exaggerated Renaissance-style contrapposto.
Now 76 years old, Nauman’s hair has thinned and his abdomen has filled out, and his recent work accentuates these facts to the same degree that his older works highlighted his balletic grace within arbitrarily delineated confines. He recently survived bowel cancer — “Now I have a bag,” he said, patting where it was on his stomach — and in recent video works such as “Contrapposto Studies, i through vii” (2015-16), he walks gingerly, his body split across multiple screens.
It came to him when, following chemotherapy treatments, he found that he had lost feeling in his feet and legs, which his doctors feared might be the result of nerve damage. In physical therapy, one of the things his therapist had him do was walk a line. “And at first, I could hardly even stand up,” he said, “and he had to hold me to be able to walk. And if I would fall on the floor, I couldn’t get up; I had to get a chair and pull myself up.” Eventually, he managed to do it. Nauman had planned to recreate six videos from the 1960s. He was only able to do one, and only in a strained manner.
Reading that turns my thoughts to how the limitations of illness and getting older can recalibrate the most ambitious of people. How it spares no one. I find it admirable he still wants or possibly needs to make work in his mid-70s.
Bruce Nauman’s video “Contrapposto Studies, i through vii” (2015-16).Credit2016 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Sperone Westwater, New York
Nauman and his parter painter Susan Rothenberg have continued to live in a fairly isolated part of the country (New Mexico), a place which seems to have granted them a place to make work on their own terms. I think most of us who chose to live in environments that are away from the “quote-unquote” urban centers ponder our decision on that matter, at least occasionally. The freedom can be glorious but can be simultaneously paired with an inevitable sense of alienation. I suppose it depends on how much of each you need to feel true to yourself. Working in a place with few distractions and the importance of allowing boredom into your life is something that is becoming less appreciated in our culture and sits heavily in my mind as something to move toward.
Nauman’s art can be held up as an argument as to why it is important to experience the work in person as opposed to online (on the internets). I know by being unable to travel to the show I’ll be missing the central experience of completely submerging myself in the sprawling noise and visual assault his art work creates, an environment that is not duplicated by just watching a video as posted above. I’ll also be missing the ability to witness the culmination of someone’s life work all at once in a retrospective, to view first hand how their ideas have morphed or possibly endured through the years with the passage of time.
I was lucky to see the last early Nauman retrospective twice, in 1994 at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and again the following year when it came to New York to MoMa. Nauman was then what I’d like to think of as a young fifty-four year old person. I would be curious to see how the the following twenty-three years have muted some of the intensity of his life as the current exhibit is supposed to be more ruminative.
Footage from the show which originated at the Schaulager in Basel,Switzerland
If you’re in New York between now and February and give the exhibit a visit please let me know what you think.