Disappearing Acts - 5 Iconic Bruce Nauman Artworks On View at MoMA

December 15, 2018

The late 1960s and early 1970s in America were definitely marked by major social upheavals such as student protests, the rise of the feminist movement and Stonewall riots. In such a climate, a number of artists started producing critically engaged works as a reaction to what was happening around them. The leading art movement of that period was conceptual art which, among many other things, embraced the use of unconventional media such as video, installation, performance, etc. One of the most interesting figures who never conveyed explicitly to any particular style, yet experimented much by mixing the characteristic of then tendencies (Conceptualism, Minimalism, Performance and Video art) was Bruce Nauman.

The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 are currently jointly hosting a grandiose retrospective of this renowned artist. The exhibition spreads in both two venues and it features an array of works produced in different mediums, from drawing, printmaking, photography, over sculpture to neon, performance, film, video, and architecturally scaled environments, created by the artist during his more than four decades-long career.

Bruce Nauman - Model for Trench and Four Buried Passages
Bruce Nauman - Model for Trench and Four Buried Passages. 1977. Plaster, fiberglass, and wire, 65 × 360″ (diam. outer circle) (165.1 × 914.4 cm [diam. outer circle]); 192″ (487.7 cm) diam. inner circle. Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Importance of Being Nauman

Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts is organized by a curatorial team led by Kathy Halbreich, Laurenz Foundation Curator and Advisor to the Director of The Museum of Modern Art. Halbreich stated:

Few artists are able to sustain this level of the relentless invention over a 50-year career. Nauman has spent half a century devising new forms to convey both the moral hazards and the thrill of being alive. His work has continuously explored how spatial and psychological tensions—provoked by shifting perceptions of time, sound, language, and movement—structure human experience.

Bruce Nauman - White Anger, Red Danger, Yellow Peril, Black Death
Bruce Nauman - White Anger, Red Danger, Yellow Peril, Black Death. 1984. Steel, aluminum, cast iron, paint, and wire, 62 3/4 × 215 1/8 × 192″ (159.4 × 546.4 × 487.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser. © 2018
Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

The Installment

One hundred and sixty-five artworks occupy the Museum’s entire sixth floor and the whole space of MoMA PS1 offering a thorough insight in Bruce Nauman’s practice. Naturally, the physicality of each individual space dictated the exhibition design and the arrangement of the works. On the sixth floor galleries are some of the artist’s largest early sculptures derived from his own body to room-size installations. On the other hand, MoMA PS1 houses thematically organized works which show the recurrence of key concepts across the decades.

The Opening Lecture of Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts at MoMA

Bruce Nauman at MoMA

Bruce Nauman has been collaborating with the museum for a really long time. A number of eighty of his works made in different periods belong to MoMA’s collection, and this respectable institution organized the last major traveling retrospective of his work in 1995 (co-curated by Halbreich).

It is important to add that this particular survey of Nauman’s practice features the US premiere of two works such as Leaping Foxes made this year as a large-scale sculptural installation, and Contrapposto Split from 2017, his 3-D video projection. A large-scale and rarely seen work Kassel Corridor (Elliptical Space) from 1972 will be on view in New York for the first time and during the exhibition live performances of Wall/Floor Positions (first staged by Nauman in 1965) based on a 1968 video.

Finally, this astonishing retrospective, as the very title may suggest, is actually a renewed interpretation and sort of a mapping of the escapist strategy which is recurrent during his entire career. The audience has a chance to explore how this artist expressed literal and figurative incidents of removal, deflection, and concealment. Withdrawal and vanishing are the themes which seem to haunt Nauman which makes his works in a sync with contemporaneity colored with social and political absurdity.

Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts will be on display at The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 until 25 February 2019.

Editors’ Tip: Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts

This richly illustrated catalog offers a comprehensive view of Nauman’s work in all mediums, spanning drawings across the decades; early fiberglass sculptures; sound environments; architecturally scaled, participatory constructions; rhythmically blinking neons; and the most recent 3D video that harks back to one of his earliest performances. A wide range of authors―curators, artists and historians of art, architecture and film―focus on topics that have been largely neglected, such as the architectural models that posit real or imaginary sites as models for ethical inquiry and mechanisms of control.

Featured images: Bruce Nauman- Disappearing Act, Installation views, MoMA PS1 and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (October 21, 2018–February 25, 2019, at MoMA and MoMA PS1). © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Martin Seck

Untitled (Wall-Floor Positions), c. 1965

The first work on our list is a reenactment of a performance released by Nauman in 1965. This work is based on a series of gestures or, as the title suggests, positions taken in front of a wall or floor. The artist’s statement explains his purpose:

Standing with my back to the wall for about forty-five seconds or a minute, leaning out from the wall, then bending at the waist, squatting, sitting, and finally lying down. There were seven different positions in relation to the wall and floor. Then I did the whole sequence again standing away from the wall, facing the wall, then facing left and right. There were twenty-eight positions and the whole presentation lasted an hour.

Featured image: Bruce Nauman - Untitled (Wall-Floor Positions). c.1965. Performance reenactment in Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts (October 21–February 25) at The Museum of Modern Art (also performed at MoMA PS1). Performer: Kiyan Williams. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Martin Seck

Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists, 1966

During the 1960s Nauman played much with the title of his works, so the majority of them were very simple and indicative such as the following work, a sculpture called Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists. This piece is made of fiberglass, not wax, and, interestingly so, not even one of the apparent rifts were made by the people Nauman names in a companion drawing.

Featured image: Bruce Nauman - Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists. 1966. Fiberglass and polyester resin, 15 5/8 × 85 1/4 × 2 3/4″ (39.7 × 216.5 × 7 cm). Collection SFMOMA. The Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas Fund and Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Collectors’ Forum, Doris and Donald Fisher, Evelyn Haas, Mimi and Peter Haas, Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Elaine McKeon, Byron R. Meyer, Nancy and Steven Oliver, Helen and Charles Schwab, Norah and Norman Stone, Danielle and Brooks Walker, Jr., and Pat and Bill Wilson. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Ben Blackwell

One Hundred Live and Die, 1984

Nauman is perhaps best known for his neon works. Namely, the artist adopted neon signage during the 1960s since he was fascinated with word plays and an array of meaning these light compositions can achieve.  A large wall installation One Hundred Live and Die is a striking interplay with words signifying various daily actions confronted with the words live and die. This piece embodies really well the new zeitgeist of the 1980s enforced by the neoliberalism and rapid technological growth.

Featured image: Bruce Nauman - One Hundred Live and Die. 1984. Neon tubing with clear glass tubing on metal monolith, 118 × 132 1/4 × 21″ (299.7 × 335.9 × 53.3 cm). Collection of Benesse Holdings, Inc./Benesse House Museum, Naoshima. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Dorothy Zeidman, courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York

Fist in Mouth, 1990

The last artwork on our list is called Fist in Mouth. It is a collaged drawing made in 1990 and it symbolically takes into account various aspects of repression whether they are imposed by a certain social mechanism, group of people or an individual.

Featured image: Bruce Nauman - Fist in Mouth. 1990. Cut-and-pasted printed paper and paper with watercolor and pencil on paper, 20 1/4 × 23 3/4″ (51.4 × 60.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased with funds given by Edward R. Broida. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

Follow These Artists

Bruce Nauman

Follow These Galleries


Brooklyn, New York, United States of America