Bruce Nauman
Truncated Pyramid Room (1982/1998) in Lörrach, Germany
Born (1941-12-06) December 6, 1941 (age 81)
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison and University of California, Davis
Known forsculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking and performance
Notable workLa air, 1970, Human/Need/Desire, 1983
AwardsLarry Aldrich Award, Golden Lion at 53rd Venice Biennale

Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941) is an American artist. His practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking, and performance. Nauman lives near Galisteo, New Mexico.

Life and work

Nauman was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but his father's work as an engineer for General Electric meant that the family moved often.[1] He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1960–64), and art with William T. Wiley and Robert Arneson at the University of California, Davis (1965–6). In 1964 he gave up painting to dedicate himself to sculpture, performance and cinema collaborations with William Allan and Robert Nelson. He worked as an assistant to Wayne Thiebaud. Upon graduation (MFA, 1966), he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1966 to 1968, and at the University of California at Irvine in 1970. In 1968 he met the singer and performance artist Meredith Monk and signed with the dealer Leo Castelli. Nauman moved from Northern California to Pasadena in 1969. In 1979, Nauman further moved to Pecos, New Mexico. In 1989, he established a home and studio in Galisteo, New Mexico, where he continued to work and live with his second wife, the painter Susan Rothenberg until her death in 2020. Nauman has two children, Erik and Zoë, with his first wife, Judy Govan, and he also has two grandchildren.[2]

Confronted with "What to do?" in his studio soon after graduating, Nauman had the simple but profound realization that “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.”[3] Nauman set up a studio in a former grocery shop in the Mission district of San Francisco and then in a sublet from his university tutor in Mill Valley. These two locations provided the setting for a series of performed actions which he captured in real time, on a fixed camera, over the 10-minute duration of a 16mm film reel.[4] Between 1966 and 1970 he made several videos, in which he used his body to explore the potentials of art and the role of the artist, and to investigate psychological states and behavioural codes.

Much of his work is characterized by an interest in language, often manifesting itself as visual puns. He has an interest in setting the metaphoric and descriptive functions of language against each other. For example, the neon Run From Fear – Fun From Rear, or the photograph Bound To Fail, which literalizes the title phrase and shows the artist's arms tied behind his back. He seems to be fascinated by the nature of communication and language's inherent problems, as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols.

In the 1960s, Nauman began to exhibit his work at Nicholas Wilder's gallery in Los Angeles and in New York at Leo Castelli in 1968 along with early solo shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in 1972.

Nauman's use of neon as a medium recurs in his works over the decades. He uses neon to make allusions to the numinous connotations of light, similar to Mario Merz, who used neon to bring new life to assemblages of mundane objects. Neon also connotes the public atmosphere by the means of advertising, and in his later works he uses it ironically with private, erotic imagery as seen in his Hanged Man (1985).[5]

Skulptur Invalidenstr 50 (Mitte) Double Cage Piece, Bruce Nauman, 1974

His Self Portrait as a Fountain (1966) shows the artist spouting a stream of water from his mouth. At the end of the 1960s, Nauman began constructing claustrophobic and enclosed corridors and rooms that could be entered by visitors and which evoked the experience of being locked in and of being abandoned. A series of works inspired by one of the artist's dreams was brought together under the title of Dream Passage and created in 1983, 1984, and 1988.[6] In his installation Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1971), a long corridor is shrouded in darkness, whilst two rooms on either side are illuminated by bulbs that are timed to flash at different rates.[7]

Since the mid-1980s, primarily working with sculpture and video, Nauman developed disturbing psychological and physical themes incorporating images of animal and human body parts, depicting sadistic allusions to games and torture together with themes of surveillance. In 1988, after a hiatus of nearly two decades focused on time-based media, he resumed his work with cast objects.[8]

Selected works

Some of Nauman's best-known works include:


In 1990, the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation commissioned a cast bronze version of Nauman's Animal Pyramid (1989), a stack of seventeen taxidermy molds rising to twelve feet. It is installed in the grounds of the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa.[8]


Nauman's work has been included in documenta (1968, 1972, 1977, 1992), the Whitney Biennial (1977, 1985, 1987, 1991, and 1997), Skulptur Projekte Münster (1977, 2007)[55] and the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 1999, 2005, and 2007).


Nauman's work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago;[56] Kunstmuseum Basel;[44] the Hallen für Neue Kunst Schaffhausen; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Hamburger Bahnhof/Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, Berlin; Museum Brandhorst, Munich; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum[57] and the Museum of Modern Art in New York;[58] the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC;[59] Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago;Tate Modern[30] in London, New Mexico Museum of Art,[60] di Rosa,[61] and the Walker Art Center, among many others.


Fifteen Pairs of Hands (1996) in the collection of the National Gallery of Art

Bruce Nauman holds honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts. His awards include:

Time named Nauman one of their 100 most influential people in 2004. In 2006, ranked Nauman as number one among living artists, followed by Gerhard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg.[68] In 2013, Complex ranked Wall-Floor Positions the 19th best work of performance art in history.[69]


Nauman has cited as major influences the following writers, philosophers, and artists:

Nauman was a part of the Process Art Movement.

Art market

Nauman's earliest supporters, in the 1970s, were mainly European patrons and institutions, such as the Kunstmuseum Basel. Chicago-based collector Gerald Elliott was the first American to amass a sizable number of Naumans, including the 1966 plaster sculpture Mold for a Modernized Slant Step, all of which went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, when he died in 1994. Emerging later as a prominent buyer was Friedrich Christian Flick, who collected more than 40 pieces from throughout Nauman's career.

Two of Nauman's early auction records were for monumental neons, both walls of blinking punning phrases: Sotheby's New York hammered down One Hundred Live and Die (1984) to the Benesse Art Site, in Naoshima, Japan, for $1.9 million in 1992,[70] and five years later sold Good Boy/Bad Boy (1986–87) to the Daros Collection in Zürich for $2.2 million. Nauman's neon work Violins Violence Silence (1981/82) realized $4 million at Sotheby's New York in 2009.[71]

By 2001, the sculpture Henry Moore Bound to Fail (1967), a wax and plaster cast of Nauman's own arms tied behind his back, had set a new auction record for postwar art when Christie's sold it for $9.9 million to Francois Pinault. In 2002, Sperone Westwater Gallery sold Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), four videos showing Nauman's cat chasing mice during the night, for $1.2 million apiece to such museums as Tate Modern, London; Dia Art Foundation, New York; Kunstmuseum Basel; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Nauman is represented by Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, and Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf and Berlin (since 1968).[1]


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  2. ^ Tomkins, Calvin (May 25, 2009). "Western Disturbances: Bruce Nauman's Singular Influence." The New Yorker. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  3. ^ Art:21. Bruce Nauman, PBS
  4. ^ Bruce Nauman, 23 May – 8 July 2012 White Cube, London
  5. ^ Hopkins, David (2000). After Modern Art. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 155–156. ISBN 9780192842343.
  6. ^ Bruce Nauman. Dream Passage, 28 May – 10 October 2010 Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.
  7. ^ Bruce Nauman, Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1971) Tate Collection.
  8. ^ a b Bruce Nauman: Animal Pyramid, January 29 - February 21, 2015 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  9. ^ Bruce Nauman, Art Make-Up (1967) Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.
  10. ^ "Philadelphia Museum of Art on PBS". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  11. ^ a b c d Price, Jonathan (1977). Video Visions: A Medium Discovers Itself. New York: New American Library. ASIN B00ECDT4V2. Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  12. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Flesh to White to Black to Flesh". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  13. ^ Colin Westerbeck (February 11, 2007), Burning Small Fires: Artist book by Bruce Nauman (1968) Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Pacing Upside Down". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  15. ^ a b Bruce Nauman: Selected Works from 1967 to 1990, May 21 - August 1, 2015 Gagosian Gallery, Paris.
  16. ^ "LAAIR on ubuweb". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  17. ^ Elements and Unknowns, September 4 – November 23, 2008 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  18. ^ "Henry Moor bound to fail- on artnet". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  19. ^ Ken Johnson (November 15, 2002), Bruce Nauman The New York Times.
  20. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Elke allowing the floor to rise up over her face". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  21. ^ Nauman, Bruce. "Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up, and Face Down". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  22. ^ "Clown torture on vimeo". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
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  24. ^ Bruce Nauman, Vices and Virtues (1988) University of California, San Diego.
  25. ^ "Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer) in MoMA". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  26. ^ "Peace in Sperone Westwater". Archived from the original on 2011-11-05. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  27. ^ The Unilever Series: Bruce Nauman - Raw Materials, 12 October 2004 – 2 May 2005 Tate Modern, London
  28. ^ "Setting a good corner- youtube video". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  29. ^ "Mapping the Studio 1". Archived from the original on 2009-10-12. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
  30. ^ a b c "Tate". Archived from the original on 2012-01-11. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
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  32. ^ Richard Dorment (October 13, 2004), Sounds to make the mind race The Daily Telegraph.
  33. ^ Ken Johnson (August 9, 2012), Bruce Nauman: One Hundred Fish Fountain The New York Times.
  34. ^ Bruce Nauman: One Hundred Fish Fountain, July 30 - August 24, 2012 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
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  36. ^ "Bruce Nauman's airborne ambitions". 6 August 2009.
  37. ^ "Days in MoMa". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  38. ^ a b Roberta Smith (December 17, 2009), Listen: Can You Hear the Space? The New York Times.
  39. ^ a b Carol Vogel (July 7, 2011), 2 Continents, 1 Work and 31 Hand Positions The New York Times.
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  41. ^ Roberta Smith (December 9, 2010), Bruce Nauman: 'For Children/For Beginners' The New York Times.
  42. ^ "Modern Art in Los Angeles: Women Curators in Los Angeles". The Getty Research Institute. October 26, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  43. ^ "Exhibitions". Daniel Weinberg Gallery. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  44. ^ a b "Kunstmuseum". Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  45. ^ "Dia Art Foundation". Archived from the original on 2012-05-13. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  46. ^ "Guggenheim". Archived from the original on 2007-06-29. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  47. ^ "SMOCA". Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  48. ^ "Liverpool".
  49. ^ "MAM". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  50. ^ "BAM/PFA". Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  51. ^ "Hamburger". Archived from the original on 2010-10-09. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  52. ^ Bruce Nauman Archived April 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Guggenheim Collection.
  53. ^ "Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts". Retrieved 2020-08-22.
  54. ^ "Bruce Nauman". Tate.
  55. ^ Skulptur Projekte Archiv: Bruce Nauman, "Square Depression"
  56. ^ "ArtInstitute". The Art Institute of Chicago.
  57. ^ "Guggenheim". Archived from the original on 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  58. ^ "MoMa". Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  59. ^ "Hirshhorn". Archived from the original on 2012-12-11. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  60. ^ "Works – Bruce Nauman – People – Searchable Art Museum". New Mexico Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  61. ^ "The Collection". 16 June 2010. Retrieved 2016-11-03.
  62. ^ "Bruce Nauman". guggenheim. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  63. ^ "Golden Lion Reference". Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  64. ^ Susan King (June 9, 2004), Nauman wins $135,000 prize Los Angeles Times.
  65. ^ "Golden Lion Reference". Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  66. ^ "Kiesler-Preis 2014: Bruce Nauman. Österreichische Friedrich und Lillian Kiesler-Privatstiftung. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  67. ^ "The prize-winner of the 9th Austrian Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts: Bruce Nauman". Österreichische Friedrich und Lillian Kiesler-Privatstiftung. Archived from the original on 2017-12-13. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  68. ^ "Art FACTS".
  69. ^ Eisinger, Dale (2013-04-09). "The 25 Best Performance Art Pieces of All Time". Complex. Retrieved 2021-02-28.
  70. ^ Carol Vogel (November 18, 1992), A Night to Buy Low at Sotheby's The New York Times.
  71. ^ Souren Melikian (November 12, 2009), Sotheby's, in a Dazzling Sale, Nets $134 Million International Herald Tribune.

Further reading

General and biographical

Works by Bruce Nauman


Review and criticism