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Bruce Nauman’s ‘Notations’ at the Art Museum (1st review)BY: Anne R. Fabbri 01.05.2010
Conceptual artist’s Bruce Nauman’s award-winning exhibition at last summer’s Biennale in Venice has been drastically edited to focus only on Nauman’s insights into the relationship between sound and the visual arts. The effect is overwhelming, but also been there-done that.
“Notations/Bruce Nauman.” Through April 4, 2010 at Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th St. and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. (215) 763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org.
Sound and fury: Bruce Nauman, recycledANNE R. FABBRI
“Notations/Bruce Nauman” offers Philadelphians a tasting of this conceptual artist’s’ retrospective exhibition that earned the Golden Lion award in last summer’s Biennale in Venice. On view are two recent sound pieces created by Nauman for the Biennale— Days and Giorni— as well as three of his early videos from the 1960s and a neon sign.
The Venice installation— organized by Carlos Basualdo, the Art Museum’s curator of contemporary art— comprised more than 30 works illustrating Nauman’s innovative approaches to sculpture, photography, film, sound and installation art. But this abbreviated version has been drastically edited to focus only on Nauman’s insights into the relationship between sound and the visual arts.
We have been there, done that, and my only question is: Do the guards assigned to the galleries for Days in the main building and Giorni in the Perelman annex get hardship pay? Each space is filled with a cacophony of sound: days of the week, not in sequence, recited arbitrarily, at a differing pace, with intense volume by seven anonymous male and female voices in each gallery. When you walk slowly through the space, lined as it is by 14 suspended white rectangular speakers, the effect overwhelms all the senses.
And, oh yes, there are three early videos from the 1960s, featuring a much younger-looking artist as protagonist, jumping around a designated square in his studio for ten minutes, assuming wall/floor positions to investigate the shape of space in his studio or doing a more convoluted Beckett walk for 60 minutes. These are based on Nauman’s statement (sans subjunctive), “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.”
I wonder: Does that include every action? And who cares? Must we really pause in our lives to watch nothing once again? Marcel Duchamp started it all with that urinal in the “Art in the Armory” exhibition in 1913, almost a hundred years ago, but now it’s over. As far as I can see, conceptual art is finished and should be put to rest, so we can get on with the creation of works of art that truly matter.
Having been born in 1941 and having won two Golden Lions at Venice (a decade apart), Nauman became an icon for the American artist in the 20th Century in the wake of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists. He has made sound and words an integral part of the art experience, enlarging its boundaries beyond the frame and pedestal. He was on the ground floor of video performances as art— a pioneer in a medium that rejected the ethos of filmmaking in favor of a new visual aesthetic: motion slowed to enhance each image, thereby deepening perception.
One of Nauman’s most successful works on view in Gallery 170 is part of the Art Museum’s permanent collection and always gives me pause: The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967), a spiraling neon sign in red and blue. It’s not overblown pretension; it just is, and it always serves to deepen one’s thought processes. Good for Bruce Nauman; this is what an artist should do.
You can gain a deeper understanding of Nauman’s work by attending one of the two special programs, “Bruce Nauman at the 53rd Venice Biennale,” Fridays, January 8 and 22 at 6:45 p.m. in the museum’s Van Pelt Auditorium. The programs include a 27-minute screening of Utopia at the Laguna, by filmmakers Klaus Sohl and Nina Sohl, offering footage of the exhibition’s three sites and interviews as well as highlights of Nauman’s sound works, Days and Giorni. They might be more than noise writ large.♦
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