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Bruce Nauman
Pearl Masque, 1981
Sammlung Deutsche Bank, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003


During his first visit to Germany, he presented his Six Sound Pieces, fragile tape loops in part stretched over the backs of chairs and pencil points and playing various sequences of tones and everyday sounds for the six working days the gallery was open. In those days, he traveled with ideas and concepts; transportation costs weren't a part of the budget.

Nauman realized an idea which had already existed as a concept and cast the negative space beneath a chair, based on an appropriate furniture model he discovered in Fischer's dormer apartment. The work found a buyer immediately and was cast in cement for a collector in Holland after a drawing. A Cast of the Space Under My Chair is one of Nauman's most characteristic and influential works and, at the same time, the practical translation of a thought by Willem de Kooning, a painter he greatly admired: if you want to paint a chair, you should paint the space between its parts and not the chair itself.

One experiences a kind of contemplative surprise when standing before the unpretentious little block. This rectangular bit of nothing, with its corners and edges, only acquires form through its title. The title teaches us to see what's not there. Then, it suddenly becomes palpable: the nothingness acquires body and weight, a fact not entirely lacking in paradoxical humor.



Bruce Nauman mit seinen Katzen
Foto: Nauman Studio


The image of an untypically relaxed Bruce Nauman reclining with his pet cats contrasts starkly with an apt saying that was once coined in reference to his work: that it produces an incomparably different experience than "settling into the reassuring armchair of Matisse's painting ...." No, to sit down in Nauman's art is to risk "falling on one's head ..." The saying evokes the idea of injury and alertness resulting from shock. The fact that he is considered to be one of the most important contemporary artists is due to a many-sided, intelligent work that is never random and that has been received and appreciated enthusiastically by artists, experts, and admirers alike.

When the artist, who will soon be sixty-two, stretches out his legs in the labyrinthine, crowded studio, he is following one of his rituals: reading extensively while waiting for ideas, or more precisely: allowing himself a break between the arrival of ideas. Reading allows for subliminal thinking; it distracts and focuses at the same time. He has been reading Nabokov again and again since the sixties, one of his earliest connections, along with Beckett and Wittgenstein.


Bruce Nauman
Untitled (draperies), 1965
Sammlung Deutsche Bank, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003


The reclining scene doesn't immediately convey that the person in the portrait is also a "reading cowboy." The studio is situated on the ranch in the middle of the broad Galisteo Basin, a valley extending between two mountain ranges in the semi-desert of New Mexico, which conjures a vision of prehistoric seas between its wide and gentle horizons. In the extremely bare, climatically harsh environment, Nauman works professionally with horses and breeds cattle with ranch colleagues half a day's journey away on a remote ranch.

When, around 25 years ago, Nauman left the Bay Area around San Francisco, where he had studied and worked, and came to the region, it was anything but planned. He was already in his early forties when he learned to ride. His interest in working with horses, in training them to become riding horses, becomes somehow understandable when one considers the background of his artistic work: stimuli, reflexes, and reactions always played a key role, particularly with the body-based works he had been developing since the mid-sixties. At the beginning of his career, he subjected himself to monotonous exercises - jumping, rolling, or walking around the studio in circles, thus acquiring an acute awareness for the subjective and objective effects of bodily activities.



Bruce Nauman
Untitled (draperies), 1965
Sammlung Deutsche Bank, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003


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