From February 3rd to April 15th 2018, Estancia FEMSA – Casa Luis Barragán is pleased to present Parameters, the first solo exhibition by Bruce Nauman in Mexico. This exhibition has assembled five video works – four produced in 1968-69, which are displayed on monitors in various locations throughout the house, as well as a projection of Setting a Good Corner (1999) in the studio. Presenting Nauman’s video installations in this iconic landmark allows the examination and demonstration of the architectonic and spatial traits found in his work since the beginning. For the exhibition, Estancia FEMSA – Casa Luis Barragán invited independent curator/writer Michael Auping to collaborate on the accompanying catalogue, offering insights on Nauman’s work.
Throughout his career, American artist Bruce Nauman (Fort Wayne, 1941) has explored themes related to the body, architecture, confinement and space. Some of his earliest works involved making casts and drawings of his body, objectifying himself as sculpture, while creating a deconstructed form of self-portraiture. These ideas are extended into the early videos on display, presenting the theme of bodies and minds in spatial containment. In the video Wall-Floor Positions (1968), the artist assumes positions that highlight his body’s connection to the walls and floor of his studio. Based on this, Nauman made a series of architectural structures that heightened body awareness. These works began with one of Nauman’s walking studies. For Walk with Contrapposto (1968), the artist built a long, narrow corridor. The resulting video shows Nauman swinging his hips and shoulders with his hands clasped behind his head, mimicking the classic pose employed in Italian Renaissance paintings as he walks through the twenty-six-inch-wide corridor. The obvious difficulty of performing this task is reflected in the way the the artist bumps against the walls as he moves. We empathize with Nauman’s body, as its creative moves challenge his architectural containment, making the simple task of getting from one end to the other a painful and comedic exercise.
The urge to recreate confined spaces and uncomfortable poses is a constant characteristic reflected in Nauman’s work, which unleashes a cognitive experience initiated by an uncomfortable sensation. Triangular spaces, underground tunnels, nearly impenetrable narrow hallways, and black and white images of shadows, are among the elements perceived in Nauman’s installations and videos. This is a reminder of the misconception of art as a merely aesthetic element, as well as art’s ability to unconsciously heighten the audience’s awareness and perception of feelings of discomfort and containment in physical space.
For Nauman architecture also serves as sculpture, and if we consider it in a broader sense, this means much more than the body mass contained in three dimensions, whose volume or weight can be seen or touched by us. The ideas of weight or the resistance of matter present us with complex problems around sculpture and its possibilities. That is the reason why the artist marks a square on the floor, chooses one of the corners of his studio or builds a narrow passage in order to be able to discover the form, consistency and structure of his own body through these elemental models. When architecture is considered in its widest possible perspective, it should embody the material and constructive delimitation of a given space, as well as the need to conceptualize a natural landscape as an element of human experience. The Mexican architect Luis Barragán (Guadalajara, 1902 – Mexico City, 1988) understood and practiced this “holistic” notion, by smoothly integrating within urban spaces the modern construction and parks that noticeably embellish cities. With the edification of his own house in Tacubaya, he tried to unify these elements, communicating the terraces and walls of the interior rooms with the patios and green gardens of the outside setting. These distinctive features of his work reappear in different forms in the work of experimental artists of the sixties and seventies.
Luis Barragán considered building and landscape, both as essential settings for experiencing the world. For Nauman, body and space are requirements for our existence. Both artists emphasize the importance of the space associated with a person and their body, as well as an interest in the relationship between the human body and architecture. Therefore, they produce formal spaces and investigate, in their own way, human circumstances. Parameters explores precisely this concept of architecture and body in a broad and profound manner.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941, Bruce Nauman received his BS from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1964, and his MFA from the University of California, Davis, in 1966. Nauman is widely regarded as among the most important living American artists and as a catalyst for the recent shift in international artistic practice toward conceptual and performative uses of language and the body. Since his first solo gallery show in 1966, Nauman has been the subject of many notable museum exhibitions. His first survey was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1972) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (1973). A survey took place at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in collaboration with the Kunsthalle Basel and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1986- 1987). A major retrospective, co-organized by The Walker Art Center and the Hirshhorn Museum, opened at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, and travelled to Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Kunsthaus Zurich (1993-1995).
Recent solo exhibitions include Raw Materials, commissioned for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (2004), and A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s at the Berkeley Art Museum, Castello di Rivoli, and Menil Collection (2007-2008). In 2015, the Fondation Cartier presented an exhibition focused on video and sound sculptures. Nauman received the Wolf Foundation Prize in Arts in 1993, the Wexner Prize in 1994, the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, and the Praemium Imperiale in 2004 in Japan. Nauman represented the United States at the 2009 Venice Biennale; the pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. Nauman was the 2014 laureate of the Austrian Frederick Kiesler Prize. Nauman is represented by Sperone Westwater, where he has had eleven exhibitions since his first in 1976. Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts, a comprehensive retrospective, will open at Schaulager Basel in March 2018 and will travel to The Museum of Modern Art and P.S.1, New York in October 2018.
© Estancia FEMSA, 2018. Photographs by de Ramiro Chaves.