Bruce Nauman’s Life

Bruce Nauman was an American who was born on 6th December 1941. His works are artistic, protecting photography, printmaking, video, sculpture, and performance. He has received some awards due to his works, some of them being: Larry Aldrich Awards, Golden Lion at 53rd Venice Biennale. His work was diverse, with most have an effect on being from the wake of Minimalism which took place on the late 1060s. Bruce presented his works in a special way which made him move from the traditional media that artists have been using. This made him be an exceptional artist and a pioneer of the postmodern art. He is, therefore, a center of subject due to his contribution in the art industry. This study involves a focus on Bruce Nauman’s work.

Education and Work

Bruce was born in Indiana; in a family whose breadwinner was an engineer for General Electric. This means that his family was involved in frequent movements, which would have been a source of exposure to him. From 1960 to 1964, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to study Mathematics and Chemistry. After this, he studied art for two years at the University of California, (Krauss, p.78). While in campus, he got involved in painting and other artworks. However, he gave up painting in 1964 and decided to be more involved in sculpture, performance and cinema collaborations with Robert and William T. After graduation he started teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute, after which he taught at the University of California.

In 1989, he started a home studio in Mexico, whereby he was in a dilemma of whether to major in art or his career. It was at this point that he started viewing art as more of an activity and not a product. He moved his home studio to a former grocery shop in San Francisco, which was later transferred to his university tutor’s sublet in Mill Valley. The two stations provided him with a series of artworks which were captured using his fixed camera. He had made several videos by 1970 whereby he used his body to explore the potentials of art, (Tubridy, 7). Just as most artists get involved in communication and manipulation of visual symbols, Bruce’s work is characterized by a strong interest in metaphoric and descriptive functions of language. He played his videos mischievously and playfully. He frequently used neon in irony, through making allusions to the many connotations of light. Neon was also used to connote the public atmosphere during advertisements. However, he later employed the same in the connotation of erotic feelings, for instance, as it is seen in 1985’s Hanged Man, (Dezeuze et al.12).

Bruce’s work always carried a clear meaning which would be recognized even at a glance. For instance, his self-portrait as a fountain was represented by streams of water spouting from his mouth. By this time, he had created corridors and enclosed rooms that would be entered by visitors, as a way of evoking the experience of being locked in and being abandoned. This contributed greatly to his work, the most conspicuous one being whereby during his installation, he changed light corridor with rooms, and a long corridor was shrouded in darkness, while two opposite rooms had bulbs that were timed to flash at different times. His works were embedded with psychological and physical themes since the mid-1980s. Some of the themes were disturbing in nature, whereby he incorporated animal images with human body parts. He aimed to bring out sadistic allusions towards games, at the same time displaying the themes of surveillance. After 1988, he went back to his works of cast objects.

Key Ideas

Most of Bruce’s work was shaped by ideas which arose in the wake of minimalism in the 1960s. He was able to display this idea through videos that showed repetitive moves and in the way his body related to objects. Another impact of Bruce’s ideas was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s view about language. It made him more interested in the way in which words fail or succeed in describing objects. The philosopher’s tone is expressly displayed in some of Bruce’s work. He frequently used wordplay and absurdist touches but at the same time touched on obsessive behavior, (Stiles, 43). According to Bruce, art is a system of codes and signs that are used in passing information. His works not only used words but also readymade objects which carry meaning from their use in the real world. He made casts of objects, including human body parts in his quest to communicate. His work depicted the prevailing conditions of the social or political sector. In some instances, he represented his feelings towards something or life. For instance, an art which showed springs of water sprouting from his mouth was supposed to communicate the idea of him being a fountain of knowledge and information. He was communicating to the world the fact that artists are a source of unique information, and hence should be considered as a major contributor to the society’s well being. An appreciation of art and music is what distinguishes human beings from other animals. In other words, it makes us human. This understanding made Bruce treat art with a lot of care and seriousness, using his potential to the maximum and ensuring that he made a positive mark to the human race.

His Most Famous Art

Bruce’s most important art represented mystic truths. It was created in one of his early studios that he had established in San Francisco. It was later modeled using neon, once advertisements started employing the use of this element. He well represented the idea of the need for every true artist to reveal mystic world, (Plagens, 26).


Bruce will remain to be one of the significantly influential artists in America. His work was diverse in the use of styles, whereby his ideas can be categorized as provocative and innovative. The use of sculpture and video was a significant contribution to the art industry. The unique themes that are based on animal and human body parts remain to explore the means of communication, (Kinder,.22).

He has influenced a large number of young artists, including the Young British Artists movement. He remains to be an asset in the art industry, especially to those who embrace social and political commentary. He got an Honorary Doctor of Fine Wolf Prize in Arts-Sculpture in 1993, received the Wexner Prize in 1994 and in 2009 he had the honor of winning the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the Venice Biennale, (Kinder, 33).Bruce received significant support from European patrons and institutions in the 1970s. The first American to amass quite a large number of Bruce’s work was Gerald Elliott. The prominent customer who emerged later was Friedrich Christian Flick, whose purchase included more than 40 pieces of Bruce’s artwork. His works remained to be an attractive participant in major postwar auctions. For instance, in 2001, Christie sold one if his works that were a wax plater which showed his arms tied at the back for $9.9 million to Francois Pinault. Sperone Westwater Gallery sold four videos which showed Bruce’s cat chasing mice at night for $1.2 million per piece to museums in 2002. His work is still relevant in today’s world, (McGrath, 87).

Works Polarized Critics

Bruce’s first show was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1972. Bruce was still in his 30s at this time, which was a considerably young age for such an achievement. The exhibit was later viewed throughout the United States. During these times, he was involved in making both innovative and provocative art, (Abramovic et al.22). Most critics described his work as painful and humorous. Most of them claimed that his work lacked description since he dud nit major in one area. He had diversified his artwork and could neither be described as conceptual, sexual, aggressive nor thought-provoking. The description could only be perceived from the reactions elicited by the viewers. Just as every social change experiences resistance, the use of non-traditional media made Bruce face a lot of opposition. However, he pressed on and became a pioneer of postmodern art. He included oddly shaped constructed spaces in some of his videos, which glued the viewers’ eyes onto it and triggered different reactions which were recorded, (Stiles, 88).

Tortured Artistic Experiments

Bruce’s uniqueness also came from a series of tortured artistic experiments. He wanted to move from the traditional media to the use of new media, which made him perform multiple experiments. Most of these experiments involved the movement from bronze to video and the use of animal parts. He got involved in conducting experiments in drawings, videos and other multifaceted installations that could be described as “crazy,” since they had not been previously witnessed (Burris, 159). His storytelling approach was more baldly empirical which were encouraged by an exploration of how different conditions affected human reactions. This made him go through a series of experiments which in most cases tortured the viewers. For instance, the use of the dark corridors and the combination of human and animal body parts on the art experiments made the viewers to have a panic on the first view. In most cases, many of them complained of having bad dreams after getting involved in the view of his work. However, it is worth noting that his intention was not to torture viewers. He was just trying something different, whose effects had to be tried on human beings, hence testing it on some individuals before releasing it to the public. He would request people to go through an experience of viewing his works as he records their reactions as a way of gathering facts concerning his work. This made him be a unique artist who delivered originality.


Bruce Nauman can be described as one of the most influential artists in America. Sculpture being his principal work, significant themes and styles remain to be drawn from it. He was much influenced by the revival of interest in Marcel Duchamp in 1960. Although Marcel was involved playful tin art, Bruce did not consider his work as such. His works were shaped by his interests in politics and ethics.

Works Cited

Abramović, Marina, Eugenio Viola, and Diego Sileo. Marina Abramović. 24 ore cultura, 2012.

Burris, Jennifer. “Surveillance and the indifferent gaze in Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005).”

Studies in French Cinema 11.2 (2011): 151-163.

Dezeuze, Anna, et al. The” Do-it-yourself” Artwork: Articipation From Fluxus to New Media.

Manchester University Press, 2010.

Kinder, Marsha. Transmedia Frictions: The Digital, the Arts, and the Humanities. Univ of

California Press, 2014.

Krauss, Rosalind. “Two moments from the post-medium condition.” (2006).

McGrath, John. “Performing surveillance.” Routledge handbooks of surveillance studies (2012):


Plagens, Peter. Bruce Nauman: the true artist. Phaidon, 2014.

Stiles, Kristine. Performance art. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Tubridy, Derval. “Sounding Spaces Aurality in Samuel Beckett, Janet Cardiff and Bruce

Nauman.” Performance Research 12.1 (2007): 5-11.

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