How a local gallery pulled in a Bruce Nauman show

The Harris gallery’s Nauman exhibition includes Changing Light Corridor With Rooms - last shown in 1989
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Partial Truth (1997) by Bruce Nauman
Partial Truth (1997) by Bruce Nauman

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, Lancashire, North-West England, has the following inscription cut into its 19th century stone exterior: ‘The mental riches you may here acquire abide with you always’. It's a fitting sentiment for any public exhibition space, but one perhaps all the more appropriate later this week, when a major Bruce Nauman exhibition opens there.

 

La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits (1972) by Bruce Nauman
La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits (1972) by Bruce Nauman

Nauman, a world-famous US sculptor, photographer, and video artist, is best known for shifting the role of the contemporary artist away from a maker of physical artistic goods – paintings, sculptures, etc, - to focus instead on the underlying process. As he recalls deducing, soon after his graduation in the mid-1960s, “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.”

Fortunately, there are quite a few products that preserve these activities, including videos of his performances, such as the wilfully repugnant Clown Torture piece (1987); more personal sculptures, such as the interlinking bronze casts of untitled (Hand Circle) (1996); and familiar neon text works, including, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967).

Raw Material Washing Hands, Normal (A of A/B) Raw Material Washing Hands, Normal (B of A/B) (1996)  Bruce Nauman
Raw Material Washing Hands, Normal (A of A/B) Raw Material Washing Hands, Normal (B of A/B) (1996) Bruce Nauman

Often these truths are only revealed to lucky gallery-goers within the bigger international art capitals. However, thanks largely to a personal bequest of hundreds of contemporary artworks by the British collector and gallerist, Anthony d'Offay, exhibition centres such as the Harris are able to stage shows by the likes of Nauman.

D'Offay, who represented Nauman, donated his collection of roughly 1,000 works jointly to the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, in 2009, on the condition that it would be as an educational resource, to the benefit of smaller towns and cities of England.

 

Untitled (Hand Circle) (1996) by Bruce Nauman
Untitled (Hand Circle) (1996) by Bruce Nauman

The resulting initiative, dubbed Artist Rooms, has already enabled art lovers from Bexhill to Berwick-Upon-Tweed to enjoy a wide range of works by contemporary artists like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. Some of these Nauman works went on show in York last year, while other pieces by the artist formed part of a conceptual art exhibition in Bristol back in 2012.

This Preston exhibition will feature the illuminated, immersive work piece Changing Light Corridor With Rooms (1971), last shown in Britain in 1989, as well as better-known neon works, and challenging pieces such as Violent Incident (1986), a set of 12 screens that show an endlessly arguing couple. Taken together, it’s a show that's highly likely, in Harris' words, abide with you always.

 

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

Find out more about the exhibition, which runs 15 February - 24 May 2014 here. For greater insight into Bruce Nauman’s wide-ranging and groundbreaking work, pre-order our new book here.


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