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June 3rd, 2009
'Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens' Opens as the U.S. Representation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia

United States Pavilion (Giardini della Biennale)
JUNE 7 – NOVEMBER 22, 2009
Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini JUNE 7 – OCTOBER 18, 2009
Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari JUNE 7 – OCTOBER 18, 2009

Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens—the official United States presentation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with the Università Iuav di Venezia, and the Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia— presents a thematic survey comprising four decades of Bruce Nauman’s innovative and provocative work. Featured at three exhibition sites—the United States Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale, Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini, and the Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari—the exhibition presents more than 30 works lent from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, some of which the artist has adapted and redeveloped specifically for Venice, working in direct response to the spatial context of the sites. The exhibition also includes two new sound-based works, Days and Giorni, the latter created by Nauman working in collaboration with students at each university. These two works will travel to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to make their U.S. premiere from November 21, 2009 – April 4, 2010.

Since his first works in the 1960s until the present day, the American artist Bruce Nauman (b.1941) has continually forged new paths in which language and conceptual thinking figure prominently. From his early studio-based videos, films, and sound pieces to his neon signs, bronze, plaster, wax, and resin sculptures, and corridor installations, Nauman has pushed the boundaries among disciplines and media. “What I want to do is use the investigative polarity that exists in the tension between the public and the private space and to use it to create an edge,” the artist once commented.

The exhibition’s three-site structure builds upon Nauman’s spatial ideas, extending the geography of the American representation in the Venice Biennale beyond the U.S. Pavilion and into the city. The exhibition metaphorically embraces Nauman’s spatial considerations, such as those originating in the mathematical discipline of topology, which has informed the artist’s practice since his undergraduate years. The exhibition also explores the notion of continuity amid changing conditions and challenges any notion of discrete and isolated experiences. In the exhibition, topology offers a kind of framework in which the audience can relate the encounter with Nauman’s art to traversing the city of Venice. As such, the exhibition challenges the ideological foundation on which the national pavilions historically rest.

The exhibition sites suggest the continuity of change layered in the history of the city’s architectural spaces that were once private, regal, or religious, and are now public civic, and educational. Ca’ Foscari—a Gothic Palace on the Grand Canal—was once home to the prominent Foscari family, and now houses the administrative offices of the Ca’ Foscari University and the renovated interiors of its Exhibition Spaces. The main lecture hall (the Aula Magna) of the Università Iuav di Venezia is situated in what was the refectory of the former convent of the Tolentini. And the U.S. Pavilion is located in the Giardini, which were created during the Napoleonic regime in the XVII century. All three sites lay bare the mutability between the public and the private that characterizes the city of Venice.

Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens is organized according to three thematic “threads,” or recurring openended categories that are evident throughout the artist’s career: “Heads and Hands”, “Sound and Space”, “Fountains and Neons”. Each site will include a combination of threads, displaying works that resonate with one another, so that a visitor entering one of the three sites can experience the logic organizing the entire exhibition. Each site will include works from various moments in Nauman’s oeuvre, allowing visitors to discover each in relation to the others. The exhibition also proposes that the city of Venice becomes an additional fourth thread, extending and dissolving national considerations and offering a wider spatial context in which to consider Nauman’s art. The accompanying catalogue and exhibition brochure have been coded with color and location icons noting the thread and the site of each exhibited work.


United States Pavilion
Nauman has recreated his landmark outdoor neon sign, Vices and Virtues (1983-88), which extends around the entire perimeter of the U.S. Pavilion. The artist has also opened the large window on the building’s side allowing visitors to peer into the exhibition space, making the neoclassical building welcoming and porous to its context and, metaphorically, to the city of Venice. Inside, “Heads and Hands” and “Neons and Fountains” recur in the forms of hanging wax and resin heads, both in the recreation of Untitled (The True Artist is an Amazing Luminous Fountain) (1968) and in the topological surfaces that run from the seminal From Hand to Mouth (1967) to Fifteen Pairs of Hands (1996). In the rushing of water in Three Heads Fountains (2005) or the silent churning of Hanging Carousel (George Skins a Fox) (1988), “Sound and Space” also pervade and resonate in the building.

Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini
This exhibition site is dominated by “Sound and Space” through the new sound work Days/Giorni, although the other two threads also emerge: one can locate “Heads and Hands” imagery in End of the World (1996) and Think (1993). Meanwhile, the aggressive whispers of Get Out of This Room, Get Out of My Mind (1968), as well as the muffled sounds in Studio Aids II (1967-68) and the perceptibly embodied voices in Days (2009) all allude to the body as an resonant instrument. Pink and Yellow Corridor (1972) uses light, like neon, to take over and transform the architecture. At the Università Iuav di Venezia, this particular work has been recreated for and scaled to one of the long arcades of the Tolentini cloister.

Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari
In these spaces, a circular logic links the concepts of “Sound and Space” with the spiraling movement of Flayed Earth, Flayed Skin (Skin Sink) (1973), Smoke Rings (Model for Underground Tunnels) (1979-80), and the turning camera over the dancers featured in Untitled (1970/2009) - a work that was recreated for the exhibition with students and staff of both Iuav and Ca’ Foscari in the same room in which it is installed. Surveillance combines with sound in Sound for Mapping the Studio (The Video) (2001) and Audio Video Piece for London, Ontario (1969-70). The desire to access a space that is both offered and denied is exercised by Double Steel Cage Piece (1974). “Fountains and Neons” are seen in My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon (1968) and combine with “Heads and Hands” in Human Sexual Experience (1985). Untitled (Hand Circle) (1996) is eerily suspended from the ceiling, echoing Untitled (358), which is made from shadow templates Nauman used to create many of his neons of the 1980s.

Nauman’s newest works, premiering in the exhibition, are the two-site sound installations in two languages, Days in English at Iuav and Giorni in Italian at Ca’ Foscari. The making of Giorni provided an opportunity for close collaboration between the artist and the students of the universities. When Nauman visited Venice in June 2008, he worked with students to record the audio tracks that would become the voices of Giorni. As the Italian iteration of the English-language Days, Giorni required participants to read two scripts in which Nauman had written permutations of the days of the week in Italian. Installed, Giorni and Days each seem to form a sound corridor with seven pairs of flat speakers creating a central aisle in which the voices resonate, compete, and fade. Depending upon the viewers’ positions in the corridor, they can experience individual voices as well as the operatic combination of overlapping voices as arranged by the artist.

Working closely with the universities was central to the curatorial strategy and organizational structure of Topological Gardens. To mark the occasion of this multi-faceted collaboration, the Università Iuav di Venezia is presenting Nauman with a Laurea Honoris Causa, an honorary PhD, which will be presented to the artist on June 8 at 17:00 at Ca’ Tron (Santa Croce 1957).

The production of Nauman’s Untitled 1970/2009 was also key to the partnership established by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the universities. Existing as a proposal for the Tokyo Biennial of 1970, Untitled had originally been recorded for posterity with Nauman’s instructions for performance and a drawing proposing positions of the dancers and the camera. Working together with a group of art history and theater students from the Iuav and the Università Ca’ Foscari for the 2009 iteration, the production of the performance took place in the same room in which the work is now installed in the exhibition—the Piano Primo of the Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari. Untitled combines performance, the marking of space with tape, and spiraling movements demonstrating the continuity and range of the artist’s practice and relating to numerous works and media throughout the exhibition.

In 2008, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State led the selection process for the exhibition and selected the proposal submitted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, following a unanimous recommendation by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions convened by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 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, Philadelphia Museum of Art, are the U.S. Commissioners. In June 2007, the Museum acquired the important early neon sculpture, 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.

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. Organized by Basualdo, the catalogue is published in English and Italian by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press ($40). 240 pages; 94 color and 31 black-and-white illustrations, including 75 works by the artist. ISBN: 978-0-87633-217-1.

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, including the Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and Dr. Friedrich Christian Flick; Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson, The Broad Art Foundation, Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, Jaimie and David Field, Gemini G.E.L., Glenstone, Jeanne and Michael Klein, Jill and Peter Kraus, Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Palazzo Grassi, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the Sender Collection, Peter and Mari Shaw, and Sotheby’s, with an in-kind contribution from Codess Cultura. Additional support was provided by Clarissa and Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Borja Coca, Dorothee Fischer/Konrad Fischer Galerie, Marion Stroud Swingle, Selma and Joseph Vandermolen, and Robin Wright and Ian Reeves.

The catalogue has been made possible by Isabel and Agustín Coppel.

The exhibition at Ca’Foscari is sponsored by FriulAdria - Crédit Agricole.

Credits as of May 12, 2009.

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