Fall 2016 Art Preview: Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, I through VII at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

September 18, 2016 – January 8, 2017

Curators: Carlos Basualdo, The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Erica F. Battle, The John Alchin and Hal Marryatt Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will premiere an ambitious new project this fall by Bruce Nauman. Since the 1960s, Nauman’s work has questioned the very nature of what constitutes art and being an artist, probed the possibilities of the body as subject and tool for performance, and explored the relationship between language and meaning. A pioneer of performance art, durational practices, and time-based media, Nauman has established a conceptually rigorous approach across sculpture, sound, installation, film, and video that continues to inspire younger generations of artists working in these forms today.

Working in sculpture, film and video, installation, performance, and sound, Bruce Nauman is one of the most influential artists of his generation. He was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of California, Davis. After graduate school, Nauman occupied a storefront studio in the space of an old grocery store in San Francisco. There, an old neon beer sign served as inspiration for Nauman’s celebrated neon, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967, which became a major acquisition by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007. Nauman’s first solo debut in New York was at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968, and his first major museum survey was co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972. In 1994, Nauman’s traveling retrospective and catalogue raisonné were organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in association with the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Following the presentation of Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens at the official U.S. entry to the 53rd Venice Biennale, Nauman’s two new sound works produced in concert with that project, Days and Giorni, had their United States premiere at the Museum in 2009. (The artist lives in New Mexico with his wife, the artist Susan Rothenberg.)

The installation takes as its point of departure his seminal video work Walk with Contrapposto of 1968, in which the artist performed an exaggerated walk along a tall narrow corridor that he had built in order to stage the action. Nauman’s new work, which is titled Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, consists of seven large scale video projections with sound in an installation specifically scaled for two galleries in the Museum on the occasion of its premiere. In each of the projections, Nauman is seen from two viewpoints walking in contrapposto, his image rendered both in positive and negative, and at times fragmented and stacked in two horizontal strata.

BN IMAGE 1 - BN11 Projection 6

Video still from Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, 2016, Bruce Nauman, Courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York, ©Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Contrapposto translates as “counterpose” from the Italian and refers to a pose that first appeared in Greek classical sculpture to introduce dynamism into the representation of the figure. Nauman’s original appropriation of the pose in motion in 1968 questioned the boundaries between performance and sculpture through the relatively new medium of video. In 2016, he transforms his original gesture by exposing it to digital manipulation and recombination, which give the appearance of his body alternatively coming together and disintegrating while remaining the stable focus of the composition. The soundtrack of each projection captures the multiplicity of the artist’s movements, which are seen both forwards and backwards, compounding the relationship between the aural and the visual experience of his action. Through the combined effects of Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, Nauman dwells on the history and possibility of representation while elliptically referencing his own biography.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO, stated: “Part of what is extraordinary in Nauman’s work is his ability to choreograph with space, movement and sound. The monumental nature of this new work offers an all-encompassing experience that commands our attention and underscores the Museum’s committment to presenting the most exciting art of our time.

Basualdo added: ”This new work by Nauman is both a video installation and an amazing sound composition. That he has used a foundational moment in the history of Western sculpture to create a rich field of interrelated references, across media as well as time, is a testimony to his status as one of the most important artists working today.”

The installation builds upon the Museum’s deep commitment to the artist. In 2009, the Museum organized a three-site exhibition of his work representing the United States in the 53rd Venice Biennale of 2009 that garnered the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. Following the premiere of Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, the Museum will dedicate one of its permanent collection galleries to a long-term presentation of select works by Nauman.

Support for this exhibition has been provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Daniel W. Dietrich II Fund for Excellence in Contemporary Art, and by Isabel and Agustín Coppel

Concurrent Exhibition: The Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York, which has represented the artist since 1975, will present a complementary new work by Nauman, Contrapposto Studies, i through vii, from September 10 until October 29. Consisting of seven projections with sound, the work reverses the direction of the artist’s movements in Contrapposto Studies, I through VII as well as the sequence of the individual projections.

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