January 25, 2006 - Milwaukee Art Museum - Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light
January 25, 2006

Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light

Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light
January 28-April 9, 2006

Milwaukee Art Museum
700 North Art Museum Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-224-3200 www.mam.org

Press Office:
Katie Heldstab, 414-224-3246
katie.heldstab [​at​] mam.org

Bruce Nauman deals with the big questions of life, in the words of his 1983 neon: Life, Death, Love, Hate, Pleasure, Pain. Naumans work focuses on the essential elements of the human experience. Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, premiering at the Milwaukee Art Museum January 28 April 9, is Naumans first solo exhibition in Wisconsin, the state in which he was raised. Bruce Nauman has been recognized since the early 1970s as one of Americas most innovative and provocative contemporary artists. The exhibition is curated by Joseph D. Ketner II, the Museums new chief curator.

Bruce Nauman works in diverse media; this exhibition focuses solely on light. Light offered Nauman a medium that has the quality of being both elusive and effervescent while aggressively pervading an environment with its message. Naumans art is motivated by ideas, not an attachment to a particular medium. Through the use of neon signs, a public and familiar means of communication to relate an idea, Naumans goal is to make the viewer think.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, split by two fluorescent light environments (a room and a corridor). The sections are: early neons based on identity, word game neons and figurative neons.

The first section in the exhibition features Naumans early neons on the subject of identity. Working in his first professional studio, the neon beer signs in the shop fronts of his San Francisco neighborhood intrigued Nauman, who became determined to subvert the commercial purpose of the advertisements. In response, the artist created Window or Wall Sign (1967) and hung it in the window of his storefront studio. With this piece he sought to achieve an art that would kind of disappear an art that was supposed to not quite look like art. Nauman then embarked on a series of neons that grapple with questions of identity. Interested in the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and building upon his early performance works, the artist produced Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals (1966) as an innovative exercise in portraiture as sculpture. With My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon (1968) he forces the viewer to contemplate a signature as the object of art.

Two fluorescent light environments divide the exhibitions three sections. The rooms force the viewer into tight or oblique spaces with harsh lighting effects that heighten the perception of space. The two works are the Helman Gallery Parallelogram (1971), a green fluorescent light room, and the Corridor with Mirror and White Lights (1971), through which the viewer must pass, providing spatial counterpoints to the neon signs.

Language, signs and symbols make up the second section. Naumans work in neon during the 1970s emphasizes the neon as a sign, presenting provocative twists of language. He was acutely aware of the confrontational potential of neon when exhibited in a museum or gallery and offered harsh and humorous socio-political commentary in such pieces as Raw War (1970) and Run from Fear, Fun from Rear (1972). This series culminates in the monumental, billboard-scaled One Hundred Live and Die (1984). His largest and most complex piece neon, Nauman employs overwhelming scale to bombard the viewer with sardonic aphorisms.

In the third and final section of the exhibition, Nauman explores the pictographic potential of the medium for image-based signs. Hanged Man (1985) makes a playful reference to the childrens word game while providing a biting criticism of human rights abuses then in South America and Southeast Asia. With these neons, Nauman acknowledges the great power of images to convey ideas.
After its debut at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Elusive Signs travels to Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana (2006); Museum of Contemporary Art, N. Miami (2006); Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington (2007); Musee dart contemporain de Montreal (2007); Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Victoria (2007); and Queensland Art Gallery, Australia (2008).

For more information, visit www.mam.org.
Press Office
Katie Heldstab, 414-224-3246, katie.heldstab@mam.org

Milwaukee Art Museum
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