How Bruce Nauman turned corridors into artworks

We look back at how, with a simple bit of architecture, the great American artist altered the gallery experience
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Green Light Corridor - Bruce Nauman
Green Light Corridor - Bruce Nauman

In a gallery setting, corridors link together the white cubes where we view art. Rarely are they the works themselves. However, in among Bruce Nauman's varied, and seminal output of works, are a series of pieces that take this architectural feature and transform it into an exhibit.

Nauman began making his corridors in 1969; the first was built as a prop for a video, yet he soon introduced them into gallery settings, allowing the audience to walk down them, and, in so doing, put in their own performance. These pieces are simple, gypsum-walled walkways, into which the artist sometimes introduces lights, video cameras and monitors, or speakers; some were too narrow walk down; others were wedge shaped.

 

Performance Corridor (1969) by Bruce Nauman
Performance Corridor (1969) by Bruce Nauman

One, Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1989) formed part of the recent Nauman exhibition at the Harris in Preston, UK. Another, Live-Taped Video Corridor (1970) will go on show in September as part of a group show at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. Both titles more or less describe the works; yet these simple descriptions belie the work’s subtle disruptive qualities.

As Peter Plagens, the author of our new Bruce Nauman book puts it, “they’re less works of visual art – in the sense of a physically coherent object put on display – than subtle challenges issued by Nauman to the viewer.”  Gallery goers are supposed to walk down these corridors, yet they’re not wholly inviting places. With this simple chunk of architecture, Nauman changes the way we experience art.

 

Corridor Installation (Nick Wilder Installation) (1970) by Bruce Nauman
Corridor Installation (Nick Wilder Installation) (1970) by Bruce Nauman

“Put in extreme terms,” writes Plagens, “he’s the lab scientist and we’re the rats. Nauman’s nicer than that, though. We volunteer to go into the gallery or museum, we volunteer to enter those corridors with ample width and tempting monitors, and we are free to leave any time we want to. Nauman seldom, if ever, makes us close a literal door behind us. He forgoes explicit instructions to the viewer in favour of the de facto action-limiting proportions of the corridors.”

 

Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1971) by Bruce Nauman
Changing Light Corridor with Rooms (1971) by Bruce Nauman

Nevertheless, the corridors do retain a certain Kafkaesque quality, with something as simple as a pair of walls; proof, perhaps, of the American artist’s skill and originality. For more on the Berlin show with Live-Taped Video Corridor go here. For greater insight into the artist’s life and work, corridors and all, buy our new book, here.


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