Since the late 1960s Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) has been considered to be one of the most influential contemporary artists to date. His work includes performance, video, neon, sculpture, photography, and interactive environments. Nauman is most interested in the process of art making as an investigation, and the products, as a result, are often doubly locked in a process of becoming. His works, the products, are theatrically aggressive, seldom enjoyable and explore subjects that always provoke and often repel most viewers. He is the greatest ironist of Postminimalist art and a master of subversive play.
Nauman created his first videotapes and neon works in the late 1960s. His early video work uses an audience more so than any before its time. "Corridors" of the late 60s and early 70s uses CCTV surveillance to trap the viewer in the work of art, creating an anxiety caused by a dislocation of one’s perceived body and one’s physical body, as he or she walks through the narrow, claustrophobic spaces, always watched, displayed, and exploited. As it is ultimately the body that is involved in the process of art making and investigation it is no surprise that Nauman uses himself as the source of many of his works. “Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body, Taken at Ten Inch Intervals” (1966), shows exactly that, as light sculpture on a wall. He is often the subject matter of his own videos as in "Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square" (1967-68). In “Revolving Upside Down” from 1968, Nauman is displayed upside down on video slowly rotating on one leg, as if he were a hanging machine of sorts. The media that Nauman utilizes interprets the body as a removed entity, one that is trapped and that can be molded, repeated, hung upside down, engaged in nonsense, humiliated and tortured. Videos such as “Clown Torture”, 1987, assault the viewer, visually and audibly, with four narrative sequences of clowns tragically trapped in loop in both projection and television, simultaneously commanding and repelling the audience’s presence. Other works instruct the audience to leave the gallery altogether by repeating, “Get out of my mind. Get out of the room.” Many of his pieces take the form of animated neon, using language to shake the words free from their usual connotations, not to reassign meaning, but to create free-floating nonsense as seen in “Run From Fear, Fun From Rear”, 1972, and “Good Boy/Bad Boy”, 1986-7. In other sculptural works, chairs are used as surrogates for a submissive or tortured body, suspended in air. See “Untitled (Suspended Chair, Vertical)”, 1983.
Nauman engages the viewer as participant. His works acknowledge a committal relationship between him and you and exploit it for the sake of consciousness. He has influenced many artists including: Matthew Barney, Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer, Mike Kelley, Robert Gober, and Tony Oursler. Among his contemporaries are Richard Serra, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Joan Jonas, and Vito Acconci. He lives and works in New Mexico and is represented by Sperone Westwater in New York and Konrad Fischer Galerie in Dusseldorf and Berlin.