Bruce Nauman

In terms of the works selected, the installation, and the careful production of certain pieces, this retrospective (the first truly comprehensive exhibition of Bruce Nauman’s work since the Whitney Museum show in 1972) is excellent. Of course, one could always point to missing pieces—Anthro/Socio, 1991, his work at Documenta IX, for example—but what is certain is that in its entirety the selection of works reconstructs the artist’s complete creative trajectory to date with undeniable balance. Since the contents of the catalogue are as informative as they are explanatory, there is nothing left to do but welcome the global staging of Nauman’s work, which because of its own stylistic and formal dispersion, demands this type of viewing experience.

There is no betrayal of his differential richness: the foregrounding of a series of investigative constants does not affect the acknowledgement of the role of fragmentation and dissemination in Nauman’s work, a role that is safeguarded by the labyrinthine installation. The viewer goes through the exhibition without forming an image of a linear totality, rather, he witnesses a number of directions in the work—a kind of mapping that reveals its complexity.

On the one hand, Nauman is constantly preoccupied with the nature of art itself, with its linguistic dimension and the cognitive character of the artistic experience. He tenaciously interrogates the anthropological side of creative work, and the mystical quality of the truths revealed in it, transcending any stabilized logic of the signified. On the other hand, in a protean and versatile way, this work is accompanied by expressive solutions: how these truths unfold in a succession of constantly evolving forms, subjected to the same temporal character of thought as the artist’s own, and how the work’s differential nature is played out with respect to the history of language.

Nauman has an overwhelming ability to evolve, which allows him to summon the social, technical, and linguistic contexts of his work at any given moment. The demand to adapt his language to the movement of contemporary history is systematically put in service of another, no less peremptory, demand: that of working precisely on the limits of the utterable, increasing the expectations of the production of meaning on which every attempt to create possible worlds rests. His work thus achieves the desired anthropological interest; it is constituted in a radical moment of collective self-awareness. This is what Nauman attains in so many of his works, with an implacable, vibrant, and unrepeatable tension.

José Luis Brea

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.