• Erika Argiolas

BRUCE NAUMAN: FOCUN ON NEON ARTWORK

The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths


Bruce Nauman is one of the most influential and versatile American artists to emerge from the 1960s. His works are extremely difficult to frame within a well-defined style, given the wide range of materials he uses in the production and for the enormous compendium of styles and themes addressed, blending elements of conceptualism, miniamlism, performance art, video art but also sculpture.

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967, neon and clear glass tubing suspension supports

Nauman created his first neon work in 1965. He refers to them as signs. These often appear text-bases and contain puns such as anagrams or palindromes.

Much of his work is closely related to his interest in language, probably born at the time he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose only course initially available was "lettering". It is so evident that a deep understanding of #typography was born in him and that #emotions and #associations are evoked by the very letters that make up the work.

Nauman thus proposes himself as a communicator and in a certain sense manipulator of visual symbols.


"The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement [...] was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It's true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself. For me it's still a very strong thought."
Bruce Nauman

Nauman makes use of the means of mass culture - neon signs and displays - trying to ask questions - often considered elitist - to a wider audience, thus distinguishing himself from some on his predecessors such as, for example, Picasso who borrowed extensively from culture popular but rarely exhibited his work in popular culture places.

The message and the medium for him were both fundamental and equally important was that this came loud and clear to everyone and that every single individual could pose or respond to that proposed reflection.

And what about the meaning of the spiral?

We know that the spiral is a symbol that contains innumerable meanings. It has been used for centuries in European civilizations but also in Asian ones as a symbol representing nature and time.

Nauman's intent, however, is not to transcend the artistic medium to give it a spiritual meaning, in an attempt to give it greater perfection, arriving at a sense of truth. His purpose was not to transform the physical into the transcendent.

Nauman's work explores the implications of conceptual, performance, process art. His art could be referred to as #Postminimalism, a term that was coined by the art critic Robert Pincus-Witten in the article "Eva Hesse: Post-Minimalism into Sublime" (Artforum 10, number 3, November 1971). Nauman, like many other artists, preferred the process of creating the work to the finished product or rather, the whole set of investigation mechanisms that led to artistic creation as the final result.

In this sense, Nauman's work is not a simple product or an object - without denying that objectively it is - but rather that his neon signs take on the whole process of realization, reflection, content that led to finally to the realization of the object itself. In this way, his signs are a continuous reference to something that leads us to think of art, of the artist as a creator of concepts and questions and of the role - as in this case - that language can play in the interpretation and perception of both of them.

With this work Nauman wonders and asks us if the true artist really reveals mystical truths. So what seems like a statement turns into a question that everyone asks himself. Does the artist show ultimate and essential truths through the various forms of art or does he simply remain confined to the culture in which he lives? While the produced object remains stuck in the web by the society in which it was born?

Thus his works continue to permeate the great questions of today's art world, not only concerning the work as an artistic product and the result of the creation of what is usually considered creative genius, but also on the value we decide to attribute to action and the artist's own discovery.

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