MoMA Announces Bruce Nauman Retrospective for 2018

Curator Kathy Halbreich will organize the show of the titanic artist's protean output.

Bruce Nauman, Henry Moore Bound to Fail, Back View, 1967/1970, cast iron. Photo: Courtesy of Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Bruce Nauman, Henry Moore Bound to Fail, Back View, 1967/1970, cast iron. Photo: Courtesy of Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Contemporary art giant Bruce Nauman will be honored with a full-dress retrospective, organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Schaulager, in Basel. It’s slated to open at the Schaulager in March 2018 and come to New York in September that year.

Co-curating the show are MoMA’s associate director, Kathy Halbreich, Schaulager’s senior curator Heidi Naef, and MoMA curatorial assistant Magnus Schaefer. Most recently, Halbreich co-organized MoMA’s 2014 Sigmar Polke retrospective with Tate Modern, London. Naef organized Schaulager’s recent Paul Chan and Steve McQueen shows.

MoMA tipped its hand about the show at least as far back as March, when it advertised for a curatorial assistant for the project.

The last Nauman retrospective, organized by Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., was in 1995. Halbreich was the Walker’s director at the time. That show also appeared at MoMA.

Bruce Nauman, Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer), 1988, plexiglass maze, closed-circuit video camera, scanner and mount, switcher, two videotape players, 13-inch color monitor, 9-inch back-and-white monitor, video projector, and two videotapes (color, sound), dimensions variable. © 2015 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman, Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer), 1988, plexiglass maze, closed-circuit video camera, scanner and mount, switcher, two videotape players, 13-inch color monitor, 9-inch back-and-white monitor, video projector, and two videotapes (color, sound), dimensions variable. © 2015 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Fifty years of Nauman’s output will be under consideration, from what press materials call his earliest fully realized sculptures, dating to 1965, to his latest work. Nauman has engaged with nearly every possible medium, from drawing to multimedia installation. About his wide-ranging practice, he has said that he continually tries to become an “amateur” by attempting new varieties of artistic practice.

Nauman is a fixture in large international biennials, and the retrospective will pay homage to works he’s had in several. The show will include Days (2009), a 14-channel sound installation that was part of his piece Topological Gardens, which earned Nauman the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 2009 Venice Biennial. A searing work of Nauman’s—a neon that contains the flashing text “death love hate pleasure pain life death”—is the first work to greet visitors to the current Biennial.

With its seemingly ironic and sincere investigation, one of Nauman’s first works—the 1967 neon sculpture The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign)—set the tone for his searching practice. Nauman has said that the piece was “a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it.”

UPDATE: Due to an inaccuracy in press materials for the show, an earlier version of this article indicated that Days, rather than Topological Gardens, won Nauman the Golden Lion.


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