Plenty of Future
When the portable video
camera came onto the market in 1967, artists such as Nam June Paik,
Richard Serra, Vito Acconcia and Bruce Nauman immediately grasped the
possibilities of this new technical medium: video gave them an
uncomplicated way to produce images with a direct connection to reality.
Bruce Nauman expanded the image and projection potential of video
technology into comprehensive installations, some including objects and
sculptures. Uwe M. Schneede describes the beginnings of video art
and recalls his first encounters with the American artist.
Video Corridor for San Francisco (Come Piece), 1969, (92.4169)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Panza Collection, Schenkung, 1992
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003
Nauman's works first began appearing in Europe in the late sixties and
throughout the seventies – in Konrad Fischer's Düsseldorf
gallery, for example – they posed a riddle for the viewer. Each individual
work had something unique, striking, radical, but how did a sculpture
made of neon letters, a floor installation made of iron, wax imprints of
knees, plans for corridors and peculiar latex forms on the wall come
together to make a whole? They could have been the work of completely
different artists. Where was the center, or the tendency, or even: the
author, the artist? And at some point the videos were discovered, the
artist's obscure gymnastic exercises in an otherwise bare room. What was
the meaning of it all?
Now, I must add: anyone who followed the
avant-garde events of the time, such as the presentation of
international galleries at the Cologne art market or at the "Prospekt"
series (founded 1968) at the
Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, was constantly confronted with riddles. It was
a time of new beginnings and the artistic discovery of virgin territory.
wing sewn into felt by
Joseph Beuys, a clay igloo by
Mario Merz, striped
wallpaper by Daniel Buren, a heap of
ashes by Reiner
Ruthenbeck, a room full of
Walter De Maria, a
chocolate-coated garden gnome by
Dieter Roth, a car embedded in
Wolf Vostell – at first glance, none of this had anything to do with art
in the usual sense of the word. Very exciting, though, even if you
didn't quite understand it.
The "departure from the picture", as Laszlo Glozer later
called it, was in full swing. A strange artistic language of the material
had to be learned. Departures and new beginnings. You were swept away,
becoming part of the adventure, and your curiosity grew and grew.
In certain cases the artist's presence was an aid to understanding. For
Beuys' works were made accessible to some extent by his performances,
by his impressive actions in the sixties and his public speeches in the
seventies. But Bruce Nauman, a generation younger than Beuys, always
remained distant as a person, offering no further assistance. Once, two
decades later, I met him and found him exactly as reserved, indeed shy, as
he has often been described. A quiet, pleasant American from the Southwest
in a rancher's outfit – and then his grand, often aggressive, even
grotesque, but always radical works! One more riddle.
Lighted Center Piece, 1967-68, (92.4161)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New
York, Panza Collection
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003
Today, now that we have a better perspective on Nauman's oeuvre and
concomitant artistic developments, we know a bit more. At the end of the
nineties, exhibition curators and directors of contemporary art museums
from around the world came together to reflect on the artists of the 21st
century. There were many things they disagreed about, but there was one
point of absolute consensus, among young and old alike: the artist of the
dawning century was Bruce Nauman.
Why? Ever since the sixties – and
in ever-new ways – he has captured our time and its problems as no one
else has, through constant experimentation with forms, media, thoughts and
feelings, in a way that is often startlingly simple, but also consciously
artless, with no beating around the bush. At this same time, his work is
far from being exhaustively explored and still has plenty of future.
Though Bruce Nauman moves in all artistic genres (apart from painting), there
is one medium which he has used and ultimately influenced as no one else
has: the video image on the monitor and, later on in the nineties, when
the technology came into existence, the video projection and its complex,
room-filling derivation, the video installation.