From March 14 to June 21, 2015, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is honored to present a major solo exhibition of American artist Bruce Nauman’s artwork, the first in France in over 15 years. For the occasion, the artist made a careful selection of recent works never before shown in France, along with some earlier installations, created from a wide array of media that he has explored throughout his career.
This exhibition reflects his continued interest in linking his works to their environment and intensifying the audience’s physical and emotional experience of his pieces. The immersive works on display were thus chosen for their resonance with the Fondation Cartier building, and emphasize the contrast between the transparency of the ground floor and the enclosed lower level.
Bruce Nauman is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists today, having created numerous genre-defining works through the exploration of the body and language, as well as performance over the past 50 years. Often defined as a conceptual or a minimalist artist, he resists classification, having experimented with multiple media since the beginning of his career. Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941, he studied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin before receiving a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California in 1966. He quickly abandoned painting for sculpture, performance, installation, and video, and worked from his California studio until the end of the 1970s, at which point he moved to New Mexico where he currently lives and works. He had his first gallery show in 1966 in Los Angeles, and an exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York two years later. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York jointly organized his first survey show in 1972-73. Major solo exhibitions and retrospectives have since been held worldwide at some of the most important art institutions, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and the Kunsthalle Basel (1986-87). The Hirshhorn Museum co-organized a retrospective with the Walker Art Center and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which traveled to Madrid, Los Angeles, and Zurich (1993-95). A survey of film, video, neon sculptures, and installations was assembled by the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Wolfsburg Kunstmusem, the Hayward Gallery, London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (1997-98). For his 2004 commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, he created the vast sound sculpture Raw Materials. More recently, he represented the United States at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where he was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. He had his first solo exhibition at the gallery Sperone Westwater in New York in 1976, where he continues to show regularly.
Presented for the first time in France at the Fondation Cartier, this thoughtful selection of multimedia installations, sound and video works, and sculptures reflects the multifaceted nature of Bruce Nauman’s artistic practice. The artist plays with notions of transparency and immateriality on the ground floor, where the spaces and their surroundings are seemingly almost empty, but contain three powerful recent works. In the garden, the sound piece For Beginners (instructed piano) (2010) invites visitors to listen to the musician Terry Allen as he plays the piano. The score is composed from a set of instructions by Nauman, which direct the placement of the pianist’s hands on the piano keys. The artist’s most recent work, Pencil Lift/Mr. Rogers (2013), is on display in the large gallery. This video is presented in dramatic proportions on a large LED screen, allowing the images to almost float in space. A continuation of his exploration of hands and physicality in previous projects, Pencil Lift/Mr. Rogers transforms simple actions – tricks performed by fingers and pencils in the artist’s studio – into ambiguous signs and optical illusions, playing with sensations of tension and balance. In the adjacent gallery, visitors hear Nauman’s voice tirelessly repeating, “For children.” Despite its simplicity, the meditative sound piece For Children (2009) is unexpectedly complex, as various associations emerge related to play, education, and pushing mental and physical limits. For Children has been adapted by the artist especially for this exhibition, and will be premiered here in both English and French.
In the galleries on the lower level, three multimedia sculptures infuse the show with compelling visual elements and visceral experiences that differ from the works on the ground floor. The large-scale video installation Anthro/Socio (Rinde Facing Camera) (1991) contains the first appearance of a human face in the exhibition. It is repeated on 6 monitors and 3 projection screens, instantaneously involving the audience by facing it head on. Rinde Eckert, a performance artist and trained singer, chants the same sets of words loudly and continuously (“Feed Me/Eat Me/Anthropology,” for example), confronting visitors with the ontological desire to make human connections. Facing Eckert, in the sculpture Carousel (Stainless steel version) (1988), casts of dismembered deer and greyhounds hanging by their necks from beams slowly turn as if on a carousel. Some of them drag and scrape along the floor, creating an irritating noise. Concluding the exhibition, Untitled (1970-2009) is a performance and video installation originally created for the 1970 Tokyo Biennale and revisited in 2009 for Bruce Nauman’s participation in the Venice Biennale. Following the artist’s instructions set out in advance, two dancers roll clockwise on a carpet to the point of exhaustion. The result is a profound experience of time passing, while also recalling the artist’s early works in which he mapped his studio by recording his own movements through the space.
This exhibition, specifically created for the Fondation Cartier, provides the opportunity to discover some of Bruce Nauman’s most striking works of the last two decades. It also reveals the often unexplored parallel between the artist’s abstract video and sound works, which focus on his exploration of the human voice and body, and his monumental installations, rich with spiritual and environmental references.