New York

Bruce Nauman

The two pieces that comprised this exhibition demonstrated an unusual range of ideas, and were presented with intensity, zeal, and humor. The fact that one was conceived in 1970 and the other earlier this year supported this notion of agility. The larger room of the gallery was devoted to Going Around the Corner Piece, 1970, an experiment in movement, self-surveillance, and voyeurism. Nauman constructed high walls within the room to form a 20-foot-square, impenetrable box, creating a large vortex around which movement was directed. Adjacent to this box and parallel to its north plane was a 25-foot-long wall that shaped the confining boundaries of a narrow corridor. At each corner of the box a video camera was placed above eye level. Monitors were placed on the floor at the other end of the hallway from each camera; in effect, they showed where the observer had just been. There were small wedges of space where it was possible to see oneself in “the present,” but one step forward obscured this view. This disturbing exercise in perception and hyperconsciousness was complicated by the presence of other people in the gallery, which created a confusion of bodies and movement on the monitors,. The installation generated tension between the static autocracy of architecture and the dynamic impression of human movement, which changes the quality of all space.

In counterpoint to the disquieting stillness of the first installation, the smaller back room contained a rotating whirligig. Hanging Carousel (George Skins a Fox), 1988, consists of a spare, crudely fashioned 17-foot armature suspended from the ceiling. This apparatus looks like a rotary from a helicopter stripped of its blades. At the center is a small monitor that shows an interview with a taxidermist, who is busily skinning and preparing to stuff a fox. The conversation is audible above the constant noise of the rotating arms, but deliberately muffled, the dialogue unclear. At the ends of the four arms hang polyurethane animal forms, which are used to stretch and shape skins prior to stuffing. These forms—the idealized interior shapes of a raccoon, two rabbits, and half of a bear—looked embryonic with their unformed feet and absence of ears, small features, and other anatomical refinements. Each bearing the manufacturer’s copyright, they bobbed and spun on their metal rack; any impulse to get a closer look involved the risk of getting beaned by the deformed resin beasts. The installation was perverse—both distasteful and fascinating—and provided an uncomfortably close look at the world of objects and collecting. Nauman’s two diverse installations explored the relationship between space and memory, object and ownership, in richly ambiguous language. His works cause considerable discomfort for the sake of provocation and illumination.

Patricia C. Phillips