Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, the official United States representation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, will explore thematically the work of one of the most influential living American artists. Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition will underscore recurrent themes in Nauman’s extraordinary 40-year career with works shown across three prominent locations in Venice: the U.S. Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale; Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini; and the Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State (ECA) led the selection process for the artist who will represent the U.S. at the Biennale. Following a recommendation by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, ECA selected Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens. The International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, established in 1895, is one of the most prestigious international events in the field of contemporary art.
The exhibition will offer a thematic view of the work that Nauman has produced over the past four decades, including video, installation, performance, sculpture, and neon. The presentation will also include seminal works by Nauman, a number of which have seldom, if ever, been seen in Europe, and will premiere a new sound installation by the artist. The exhibition is structured around the notion of topology—a field in mathematics that examines the continuity of space amid changing conditions—which is used to understand the artist’s work as well as the context in which it will be displayed. Nauman has used the concept of topology many times to describe the themes and methods of his practice. By focusing on topology as a key to consider his work and the urban structure of Venice, the exhibition will enable visitors to experience one in relation to the other while productively interrogating the idea of the “national pavilion.”
By extending the presentation beyond the U.S. Pavilion, which traditionally hosts the Biennale’s U.S. representation, the exhibition will resonate with Nauman’s investigations into the nature and the boundaries of public and private spaces. This extension also ensures that a more diverse audience, mainly students and younger people who might not visit the Biennale, will experience first-hand, the work of one of the most accomplished living American artists. Making U.S. culture more accessible to a broader international public is a major objective of American public diplomacy.
“Our intention from the beginning was to explore the vast and varied terrain of Nauman’s oeuvre, and to examine it in the Venetian context, using the notion of the ‘national pavilion’ as a point of departure. We developed partnerships with other institutions, such as the universities, so that the presentation could interlace Nauman’s work with the urban structure of the city,” said U.S. Commissioner Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Museum pursued its partnerships with the Università Iuav di Venezia and Università Ca’ Foscari, two of Venice’s premier academic institutions, in part to enable thousands of Venetian students to engage fully with Nauman’s work, while at the same time encouraging Biennale visitors to explore the urban fabric of Venice beyond the Giardini. At the Università Iuav di Venezia, Nauman’s works will be installed in the school’s main building, located in the cloisters of the former Tolentini convent near Piazzale Roma. The exhibition will also occupy the exhibition spaces of Ca’ Foscari, two floors of a 15th-century gothic palace, prominently situated on the Grand Canal. In the Giardini, Nauman’s works across various mediums will fill the neoclassical building of the U.S. Pavilion, emphasizing its architectural volume and features
“Bruce Nauman has fundamentally altered our conception of artistic practice and identity. We are excited to have this opportunity, as the Biennale provides the perfect venue in which to explore and contextualize his radical ideas within the history of Modern and Contemporary art,” said U.S. Commissioner Michael R. Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Rector Carlo Magnani of the Università Iuav di Venezia commented that the exhibition “is an important event both to redefine the relations between the Biennale and the city in a significant and innovative way and to bring contemporary art to places of study where it will be primarily in direct contact with a younger generation of students. For a university like the Università Iuav di Venezia that is fully devoted to project-based learning in all of its iterations, Nauman’s constant experimentation with expressive forms that profoundly reconfigure the viewer’s perception of space represents an exceptional educational opportunity. The beneficial and productive collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art is another proven example of the capability of the Venetian institutions to restore to Venice a significant role in the debate, education and production of contemporary art.”
Pier Francesco Ghetti, the Rector of the Università Ca’ Foscari, remarked that the exhibition is “an initiative of international relevance, which will involve professors, doctoral candidates, and graduate students of our houses of study; and it will reaffirm the synergies in contemporary art among the Università Ca’ Foscari, the Università Iuav di Venezia, and other important Venetian institutions. The Ca’ Foscari not only is a spacious and prestigious location in the heart of the Grand Canal, but it is also an educational laboratory in which artists can experiment with new forms and ideas and where our students can be involved in the artistic culture of our time.”
About the Artist
Bruce Nauman (b. 1941, Fort Wayne, Indiana) is regarded as one of the most innovative artists of his generation and is often cited as a catalyst for the recent shift in much international artistic practice toward conceptual and performative uses of language and the body. In work encompassing video, installation, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and neon, Nauman continually engages mundane situations and interpersonal communication, only to subvert them through paradoxical visual and linguistic manipulation.
Nauman studied mathematics, physics, and studio art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and then pursued an MFA at the University of California, Davis. There, artists on staff such as Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley supported his experimental attitude toward art making. In 1966, Nauman had his first solo show at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles and was also included in Lucy R. Lippard’s Eccentric Abstraction group exhibition at the Fischbach Gallery in New York. Nauman’s solo debut in New York at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968 was soon followed by a one-man exhibition at Konrad Fischer’s gallery in Düsseldorf. In 1973, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art co-organized the first museum survey, Bruce Nauman: Works from 1965–1972, an exhibition that also traveled in Europe. Since 1975, Nauman has been represented in New York by Sperone Westwater.
Nauman’s work can be found in prominent museum collections throughout the world, and he has been the subject of many notable solo exhibitions, including: Bruce Nauman, 1972–1981 held in the Netherlands and in West Germany in 1981; Bruce Nauman, a survey organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, that traveled in 1993–95 to Madrid, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York; and, in 2006–07, A Rose Has No Teeth, an exhibition of his early work organized by the University of California Berkeley Art Museum that toured to Turin, Italy, and Houston, Texas. Nauman has garnered multiple awards throughout his career, including the Wexner Prize in 1994, the Leone d’Oro (The Golden Lion) along with Louise Bourgeois at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, and the Praemium Imperiale for Visual Arts in 2004 in Japan. He holds honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, the noted American painter Susan Rothenberg.
About the Commissioning Institution
The exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and presented in collaboration with Università Iuav di Venezia and Università Ca' Foscari with the support of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art, and Michael R. Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are the U.S. Commissioners. In June 2007, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired one of the most important early neon works by Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967, which will be included in the exhibition.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the United States, showcasing more than 2,000 years of exceptional human creativity in masterpieces of painting, sculpture, works on paper, decorative arts, and architectural settings from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Museum offers a wide variety of enriching activities, including programs for children and families, lectures, concerts, and films.
About the Venues
United States Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale
The traditional venue for U.S. presentations at the International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the U.S. Pavilion is a neoclassical 1930’s building located in the Giardini. The freestanding pavilion includes an entrance plaza, rotunda, and two wings built in the Palladian style popularized by Thomas Jefferson. It is one of 30 national pavilions, in addition to the Italian Pavilion, that are located on the grounds, which became the first public garden in Venice in the 18th century. With the first Biennale in 1895, the Giardini found their current role and are home to the city’s Biennales in the areas of art, architecture, cinema, dance, music, and theatre.
Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini
Università Iuav di Venezia grew out of a special architecture course taught at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice in 1923, and in 1926 became the second school of architecture in Italy. Today Università Iuav di Venezia has amplified and diversified its degree programs to include three faculties—Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Arts and Design—and recently founded the School of Doctorate Studies. Today the Iuav is the only university in Italy dedicated to a specific area of knowledge: teaching design and planning for all disciplines concerned with man’s habitat and environment. Università Iuav di Venezia has highly qualified services and research facilities including a projects archive; survey, cartography, and territorial data processing center; laboratory for the analysis of antique materials; and laboratory for constructional engineering. Research at Università Iuav di Venezia focuses on issues concerning city transformation and regional development and is conducted with the full collaboration of both public and private local institutions. The Università Iuav di Venezia program has involved some of the most noteworthy individuals working in the fields of architecture and urban planning, including Franco Albini, Giovanni Astengo, Ignazio Gardella, Bruno Zevi, Giancarlo De Carlo, Carlo Scarpa, Giuseppe Samonà, Manfredo Tafuri, and many others. Università Iuav di Venezia’s current Rector is Carlo Magnani.
Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari
Ca’ Foscari takes its name from Palazzo Foscari, one of several buildings that form the campus of the University. The Palazzo Foscari was built on the waterfront of the city's Grand Canal by the Doge Francesco Foscari in 1452 and is a fine example of the Byzantine-inspired gothic architecture that distinguishes many of the palazzi lining the Grand Canal built during this period. The first college to be housed in Palazzo Foscari was the Royal Higher Commercial College, which was founded in 1868 as Italy's first higher education institute to deal with economics and commerce. It was the first institute of its kind with the primary objective of training businessmen, and also serving as a training college for secondary school teachers of commercial subjects. Ca’ Foscari became a university in 1968 and currently has four distinct faculties: Faculty of Economics and Business; Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature; Faculty of Literature and Philosophy; and Faculty of Mathematical, Physical, and Natural Sciences. Ca' Foscari has 19 academic departments, 17 research centers, and a library system providing access to 900,000 books and 6,000 periodical subscriptions. Some 20,000 students are currently enrolled at the University.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a generously illustrated catalogue with essays by Carlos Basualdo, Michael R. Taylor, Marco De Michelis, and Erica Battle, and is dedicated to Anne d’Harnoncourt, late director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It will be published in English and Italian by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press.
Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, the official U.S. representation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition---La Biennale di Venezia, is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and presented in collaboration with the Università Iuav di Venezia and the Università Ca' Foscari di Venezia, with the support of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.
Major support for the U.S. exhibition is provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Henry Luce Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.
Additional funding is generously provided by Agnes Gund, Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann, Sperone Westwater Gallery, and many other Friends of Bruce Nauman. The accompanying catalogue has been made possible by Isabel and Agustín Coppel.