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Exhibition at Museo Picasso Málaga brings together 100 works by Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman. Rooms, Bodies, Words, presents works that highlight the range of mediums with which this U.S. artist works: from architectural installations, sculptures and neons, to videos, drawings, silk-screening and photography, amongst others. Photo: Pablo Asenjo © Museo Picasso Málaga.

MALAGA.- Museo Picasso Málaga presents Bruce Nauman. Rooms, Bodies, Words, an exhibition on an artist whose innovative work centers on his understanding of art as an activity or process, rather than as the production of objects. This is his first major exhibition in Spain for 25 years.

With abundant references to music, dance, literature and philosophy, Bruce Nauman’s work generates in viewers the kind of responses that are associated with provocation, conflict, tension, disorientation, and anxiety, via a relentless repetition of language and form.

Bruce Nauman. Rooms, Bodies, Words, brings together almost one hundred works that highlight the range of mediums with which this U.S. artist works: from architectural installations, sculptures and neons, to videos, drawings, silk-screening and photography, amongst others.

Bruce Nauman (Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1941) has spent more than 50 years inventing ways to convey both the moral hazards and the excitement of being alive. Employing a huge range of materials and working methods, he reveals how the mutable experiences of time, space, movement and language provide an unstable foundation for understanding our place in the world. For Nauman, both making and looking at art involves “doing things that you don’t particularly want to do, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, following resistances to find out why you’re resisting.” His work compels the viewer to abandon the safety of the familiar, keeping us alert, ever vigilant, and wary of being seduced by easy answers.

Investigation is essential to Bruce Nauman. It is present as part of his creative process, and thus apparent in certain pieces. His work is noticeably influenced by sources from contemporary music (John Cage), modern dance (Merce Cunningham) and literature (Samuel Beckett). Gestalt psychology is the first major influence on Nauman’s work and is derived from his interest in phenomenology and behaviourism. He applies it to his focus on human behaviour when faced with unpleasant or upsetting situations. Other major influences can be found in the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s criticism of the validity of language and its meaning and representation, in such works as Violins/Violence, 1983; author Elías Canetti in his study on the behaviour of the masses, in Body Pressure, 1974; and also writer Samuel Beckett’s bleak view of the destiny of mankind, in his piece Model for Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, 1984.

Nauman’s art has always defied categorization. Watercolours, flashing neon signs, sound installations, video corridors - he is constantly shifting between all these and more, never conforming to a signature style. But underneath this sheer variety, crucial themes persist, with disappearance one such recurring impulse throughout his 50-year-long career.

The diverse elements that make up Nauman’s work, and whose origins lie in such apparently dissimilar and hermetic areas as philosophy, conjuring and choreography, involve gaining or attempting to gain control over the viewer’s experience of an event, action or situation. The artist proposes actions that elicit emotional and physical responses and perceptive psychological suggestions from the viewer and, in many cases, they involve the creation of a cacophony of sound and images. The public becomes both the subject and performer when face-to-face with a work that is constantly “happening”. This can be seen in Für Kinder (2010) and in Clown Torture (1987). Throughout his career space and its occupancy, architecture and its limitations, engineering and its violence, have all heightened Nauman’s interest in focusing on the fundamental mechanisms of perception and psychology. As the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Director Neal Benezra states, Bruce Nauman "successfully integrates our consciousness with our feelings. In his works, we do what we see", and this is evident from the public’s submission to imposed messages and images.

Bruce Nauman rejects the practice of photography, in the sense of narrative images, in favour of documented records. This can be seen in the works in this exhibition dating from between 1966-1967/1970: Self-Portrait as a Fountain, Feet of Clay, and Eating My Words. First film, then video soon became one of the primary mediums in his oeuvre, either in a supporting role – seen in works such as Flesh to White to Black to Flesh (1968) and Violin Tuned D E A D (1969) – or as a key element of his architectural installations and sound sculptures.

With this selection of corridors, neons, sculptures, video and sound works, architectural installations, performances and works on paper, the exhibition at Museo Picasso Málaga aims to illustrate the thinking and ethical views of Bruce Nauman. His irony and incisiveness are apparent in his plays-on-words and in the relationships that are established between viewer, space and artwork. Jointly curated by Prof. Eugen Blume, from Germany, and the artistic director of Museo Picasso Málaga, José Lebrero Stals, this is the first large-format exhibition of Nauman’s work in Spain for 25 years.

This Museo Picasso Málaga exhibition will be moving away from the space normally used for temporary exhibitions, with a dozen of Bruce Nauman’s works distributed around other architectural spaces in the gallery. In its “Patio de Columnas” courtyard, visitors will be able to see the sculpture Smoke rings: 2 Concentric Tunnels Skewed, Non Communicating (1980); the archaeological site will house the video installation Clown Torture (1987), and the in the inner courtyard visitors themselves will be able to be part Body Pressure (1974), in which students form the Pepa Flores professional dance conservatory will encourage interaction with the audience, Monday to Saturday, from 12 noon until 12.30h. Other works, featuring installations and videos by Nauman, have been placed in different areas of the museum.

This Museo Picasso Málaga exhibition has benefitted from advice and support from the principal galleries that have represented the artist: Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, and Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf. It highlights the artist’s links with Europe in a project that contains pieces held mainly in European private and public collections. Prominent among these, due the number of works on loan, is the support received from the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, Berlin, and Spanish collections such as the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo de la Junta de Andalucía; Colección "la Caixa". Arte contemporáneo; Colección Bergé; Colección MACBA and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. European museums include Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Liebelt Collection, Hamburg; Museu Coleçao Berardo, Lisbon; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, and Tate London. Museums in the U.S. include The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and The Sonnabend Collection Foundation, New York, amongst other cultural organizations, as well as numerous private collections. Organized in collaboration with La Caixa Foundation.

Nauman’s thoughts and words
Unlike many of his fellow artists who also began their careers in the 60s, Bruce Nauman has refrained from taking part in the critical discourse surrounding his work. He has written no reviews and given no public talks, so our perception of him is an image of silence. For this reason, Museo Picasso Málaga, the American university publisher MIT Press, and Editorial Antonio Machado have joined forces to commission the translation into Spanish in its entirety of the legendary reference book Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words. Writings and Interviews, by Janet Kraynak, a collection of interviews and writings by Bruce Nauman that was published by MIT Press in 2005. The Spanish-language edition, Por favor, preste atención, por favor: palabras de Bruce Nauman. Escritos y entrevistas, fills the existing void regarding books on the artist published in Spanish.

The book is an archival resource that works as a counterpoint to Nauman’s taciturn reputation. It highlights the historical and critical value of the interviews that he has given. For Janet Kraynak, one of the aims of the book is to “demonstrate the conceptual and philosophic continuity of what seems, at first sight, to be an art practice composed of radically distinct features that echo the underlying ideas of works that, in principle, do not appear to be related and which are of great value when interpreting Nauman’s work”.

Museo Picasso Málaga is also publishing the exhibition catalogue which is, as always, abundantly illustrated. It contains texts by the curators, Eugen Blume and José Lebrero Stals, as well as authoritative texts on understanding the work of the artist, by Theodore Roosevelt, Gaston Bachelard, Elias Canetti, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault and Samuel Beckett, and historiographic texts by Marcia Tucker, Kathryn Chiong and Rosalind Krauss.

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July 7, 2019

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