Critics’ Picks

View of “Bruce Nauman,” 2016.

View of “Bruce Nauman,” 2016.


Bruce Nauman

Copenhagen Contemporary
Refshalevej 173 A
September 1–December 22, 2016

This first survey of Bruce Nauman’s work in Scandinavia, which coincides with the artist’s seventy-fifth birthday, is a fitting choice for Copenhagen’s newest contemporary art space. Rather than serving as a retrospective, the show demonstrates how relevant and timely Nauman’s challenge to viewers’ perception is today. The twelve pieces on display date from the 1960s through the 1990s and cover almost all media in which the artist has worked, from his neon word plays and experimental videos to his major installations. Set within cavernous halls lit by large industrial windows in a former paper manufactory, Nauman’s installations in particular resonate with a multitude of sensory shifts that activate both the surrounding space and the viewer’s interaction with the work. The cold light emanating from Green Light Corridor, 1970, along with the glistening reflections on the walls of Copenhagen’s inner harbor, illuminates one hall. Just as the work draws visitors in to encounter its confined interior space, it provides glimpsed vistas of the historic Nyhavn streets through the massive windows the passageway faces. Hanging Carousel (George Skins a Fox), 1988, also plays with dissonance, its dangling casts of taxidermic animal parts elegantly revolving around a video screen depicting a hunter skinning a dead fox. What at first appears playful and childlike becomes a grotesquely morbid wheel of life. Such monotonous repetition is carried even further in the most recent work in the show, Setting a Good Corner, 1999. The movie-length video records the countless mundane activities that went into the artist’s construction of a fence on his ranch. Shown on a continuous loop, both the video itself and the activities it records are analogous to the many unseen dull efforts that go into the creation of a work of art. The exhibition forms a dynamic foil to the other interactive installations on display by artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Pettersen & Hein, highlighting how deeply Nauman’s early experimentation with sensory effects and viewer involvement has resonated with younger artists.