Explore the work of the American artist with three exclusive appointments at Punta della Dogana, and dedicated routes running through the Venetian streets as part of the “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies” retrospective
Words by: Gilda Bruno
Launched on May 23 at Punta della Dogana, the much-anticipated “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies” is an exhibition homaging the artistic production of one of the most influential personalities in the international contemporary art scene.
Developed with the curatorial support of Carlos Basualdo, The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Caroline Bourgeois, curator at the Pinault Collection, the showcase breaks down the work of the acclaimed American artist (1941, Indiana, USA) focusing on the three fundamental motifs that distinguished the essence of his artworks through the years: namely, the artist’s studio as a space for work and creation, the performative use of the body, and sound experimentation.
Described by London’s Tate as “a restlessly inventive, quintessential contemporary artist,” Bruce Nauman is known for having pushed the boundaries of art and self-expression by researching different artistic mediums — from photography and sculpture to video and performance — and discovering how each one of them could help him shape a new way of conceiving the aesthetic world and its numerous practices. “I’ve always had overlapping ways of going about my work,” he explained in a dated interview with Arts Magazine (1970).1 “I’ve never been able to stick to one thing.”
A confession that resonates with the nature of the works on display at Punta della Dogana until January 9, 2022: a mixture of some of Nauman’s most famous pieces, including Stamping in the Studio (1968), Diagonal Sound Wall (Acoustic Wall) (1970), and For Beginners (all the combinations of thumb and fingers) (2010), and new exclusive artworks, many of which exhibited for the first time in Europe.
In Nature Morte (2020), the artist further explores the ‘studio’ theme through a 3D reproduction of his own studio in New Mexico. Thanks to three mural projections shedding light on the interiors of his workspace, visitors get to discover the tiniest details of the magic place where Nauman turns his visions into concrete works of art by exploring its volumes through a wirelessly connected iPad. Having premiered at New York’s Sperone Westwater Gallery, Nature Morte is amongst the artworks at their first public view in a European country.
As the title itself suggests, “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies” places particular attention on the artist’s body and his way of experiencing space. The notion of movement and the visitors’ awareness of the implications that moving around the premises of the exhibition has on their understanding of the show are therefore two crucial elements of this immersive experience.
Two elements that permeate Nauman Studies, Nauman in città (Nauman in the city), Matinée, and Soirée: the four initiatives that, running in parallel with the retrospective from the first week of July onwards, will accompany the public on a journey of self-discovery drawing from the works of the artist, interactive activities, and exclusive walks through the showcase site.
In Nauman Studies (Punta della Dogana, July 8 and 29, 12, 23, and 30 September), visitors will be guided through a thematic view of the exhibition where different artworks on display will be analysed based on specific keywords. This will allow for reflection on themes such as imitation, play, and isolation as well as inviting the public to be wary of preconceptions and focus on the properties of the body and its knowledge.
Spread across different Venetian locations, Nauman in città takes spectators through an artistic urban path that, extending itself from Iuav to Ca’ Foscari and Punta della Dogana, retraces the process that led to the creation of Nauman’s Giorni/Days 2009.
“The initiative wants visitors to ‘experience’ the artist’s work by stimulating them to find within their own bodies the key to understand a complex artistic research, stratified and coherent like that one of no other artist,” Iuav alumna and curator Daria Carmi explained to Collectible DRY.
Back in 2009, Carmi contributed to the creation of Giorni/Days (2009), a sound installation part of Topological Garden: the Carlos Basualdo-curated project with which Nauman represented the United States at The Venice Art Biennale, eventually winning the Golden Lion for the best national participation.
“On that occasion, Nauman explained to us how interested he was in capturing the feeling of slight loss that we all experience when, climbing up a staircase in the dark, we realise that there is still one step left to its ending: the foot loses its balance, but the leg immediately compensates for it, establishing a new one,” she recounted.
“This metaphor exemplifies how the human being is core to his artistic production. Venice is a physically tiring city, one that must be lived with the body; the same body that is being investigated by Nauman: to him, this serves as a yardstick through which to read, interact, and understand the world in which we are immersed.”
Silvia Salvagno-led Matinée (July 1, 15, and September 2) is a series of pilates lessons where the performer and choreographer will help participants acquire full control over the potential of their bodies gathering inspiration from different Nauman’s artworks.
“Starting from the basics of the Joseph Pilates method as well as from some exercises for a correct posture, we place the body in a state of maximum functionality,” Salvagno explained to Collectible DRY. “Given the delicate historical moment we are living through, the classes are specifically aimed at awakening the importance of being, acting, and enjoying the freedom of the body.”
“Experiencing this well-being and stability then allows me to explore the discomfort of other bodily modalities, just like Bruce Nauman does in his performances. The two things, therefore, appear as the opposite extremes of the same piece of knowledge,” she pointed out. “Organic, effortless, and fluid functional movement is thus juxtaposed to uncomfortable, tiring, and repeated positions that can only be experienced relying on the balance provided by the former.”
In Soirée (from 5 August), spectators become one with the exhibition by turning their attention to the function their bodies have within the architectural volumes of Punta della Dogana. “This series of guided walks through the exhibition stems from the desire to get closer to the overarching theme of the showcase, namely the study of the contrapposto, relying exclusively on the body,” Laura Colomban, a graduate dancer in Movement-based Expressive Arts Therapy, explained to Collectible DRY.
“The bodily experience fosters the assimilation of the artworks on display differently from the mere cognitive approach. This opens universal doors of understanding, allowing for the revelation of messages that resonate internally. Experience is a work of art. We are experience,” she continued.
“In this class, we will play with the body weight, letting ourselves ‘be acted upon’ by the movement to enter a ‘field of exploration’ (quoting the artist’s words), which will allow us to observe relationships, associations, and metaphors, giving rise to a poetic language. It will be the body itself to communicate its essence to us. Bodies like instruments of an orchestra. Architectures invisible, made of resonances and dissonances, that manifest themselves from the inside to the outside, in a constant, dynamic dialogue between the inside and the outside, just like the title of the review, In and Out!”
Visit Palazzo Grassi website for more info on the exhibition, open until January 9, 2022
- Bruce Nauman to Willoughby Sharp, Arts Magazine 44:5 (March 1970), reprinted in Nauman, Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words. Writing and Interviews, ed. Janet Kraynak. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 119.