New York

Bruce Nauman

Leo Castelli Gallery

Bruce Nauman’s Cones/Cojones, an installation of masking tape laid on the floor in concentric circles, is similarly involved with performance implications. In Lew’s piece the performance collapses to reinforce reflection on the sculptural object, whereas Nauman’s is an experientially underscored metaphor for expansion. The work itself is etherealized, the spectator/performer is consolidated, rather like a statue in a courtyard. Since it doesn’t aggrandize itself as an object, Cones/Cojones may be a more generous work than Lew’s—but if that is to be so, it requires a more openhearted use.

Masking tape is used in theaters to mark position for props and actors on stage floors. A small cross marks the center of the configuration here as the place to be. Sitting there I felt quiet, self-contained, in a safety zone. At the same time, the configuration drew my eyes around like an owl’s as I tried to imagine the part I couldn’t see. I didn’t feel as if I were at, as Nauman suggests in a handout for the show,

The point of the universe which is the apex of a countable number of concentric cones whose intersection with the plane parallel [sic] to the floor passing through your center describing an equal number of concentric circles, appear to radiate, inward or not, that point, moving with the universe, expanding, and so changing, the shape, of the cones, and circles, at this rate.

On this handout called Cones, Nauman records meditations on the experience of the work. On Cojones (which, incidentally, means “balls” in Spanish slang), he records his intention (although he cautions, “Take my meaning not my intention”). Could the work be the sum of these two sheets? They’re mystical poetry, nearly yogic despite the geometry class lingo. The artist as Zen master, as Cage once said he saw Duchamp.

My mysticism in this case is art historical, which is why I read an evocation of classical form into Nauman’s recent work. It’s an evacuated, schematic delineation that separates Cones/Cojones from a lot of other circular floor or ground pieces by artists like Long, Le Va and Andre. If you squashed Bramante’s S. Pietro in Montorio (c. 1500), or rather, traced the lines of its cornices to the ground, you’d get a configuration very like Nauman’s. I don’t mean that it’s a ground plan, but rather it’s like a flat register of the heavy exterior shapes. The tempietto memorializing the supposed scene of St. Peter’s martyrdom in Rome is Bramante’s realization of Alberti’s assertions about the serene, philosophical, indeed cosmological nature of Greek-derived circular form. This is off the track, but it’s just to say that here’s a rationale for Cones/Cojones as a figure expanding into three dimensions and a pedigreed form of heroizing iconography.

Alan Moore