Return to Previous Page


Bruce Nauman was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. During his undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Nauman studied mathematics and physics before changing his focus to studio art under Italo Scanga, among others. Nauman pursued an MFA at the University of California, Davis, where faculty artists Wayne Thiebaud, William T. Wiley, and Robert Arneson supported his growing desire to investigate art making beyond his earlier abstract paintings. There he experimented with casting objects in fiberglass and polyester resin, leaving their surfaces unrefined to reflect the casting process. While at Davis, Nauman also staged his first two performances, one utilizing a fluorescent tube as an extension of his body as he performed mundane actions, which he would later record on video.

After graduate school, Nauman occupied a storefront studio in San Francisco where he focused on the act and process of making art by photographing visual puns and daily actions. An old neon beer sign in this former grocery store served as inspiration for Nauman’s celebrated neon, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign). At once genuine and ironic, this statement initiated a tongue-in-cheek discourse concerning the role of the artist in society that persists through much of Nauman’s work. The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently acquired this iconic work from 1967 for its permanent collection. Nauman later moved to Wiley’s studio in Mill Valley, California, where he made various films of himself walking around the space while altering his bodily movements. He began to garner critical attention in 1966 with his first solo show at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles, as well as his inclusion in Lucy R. Lippard’s Eccentric Abstraction group exhibition in New York. Nauman’s solo debut in New York at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968 was soon followed by a one-man exhibition at the Konrad Fischer Gallerie in Düsseldorf. In 1972-73, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art co-organized the first major survey of his work, Bruce Nauman: Works from 1965-1972, an exhibition that traveled to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and other U.S. venues. Since 1975, Nauman has been represented in New York by Sperone Westwater.

Influenced early on by philosophy and literature—including Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and Samuel Beckett’s Molloy—Nauman constantly tests rational systems of language, spatial and bodily boundaries, duration, and psychology, using sculpture, video installations, and constructed environments. In the late 1960s, Nauman continued to work with neon and also began to construct corridors, sometimes filming his performances within them. Larger constructed environments in the early 1970s often included video surveillance cameras and monitors that overlook and record viewers as they entered these spaces. Nauman continued to make large sculptures and installations in the 1970s and early 1980s, mapping space with masking tape or evoking physical or psychological constraints through the creation of passages and tunnels. Nauman halted his work with video for about a decade before taking it up again in the mid1980s with many multi-channel video installations that further explored language and his metaphorical use of labyrinths and the personae of rats and clowns. In the late 1980s, he also introduced the iconography of life-sized animals cast in wax that hang suspended in carousel-like formations. The 1990s brought sculptures of human heads and hands in wax and bronze, video installations, and sustained work with neon. In the early twenty-first century, Nauman’s video work, sound installations, and sculptures expand upon themes that have resurfaced throughout his career.

Museum exhibitions have mapped Nauman’s development with notable solo shows, including Bruce Nauman, 1972-1981 held at the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, in the Netherlands and at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, in West Germany in 1981; 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, an exhibition of his early work, A Rose Has No Teeth, that traveled to the University of California Berkeley Art Museum, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Turin, Italy, and the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Among the prestigious group shows that have included Nauman are the Venice Biennale in 1978, 1980, 1999, and 2007, as well as several Documenta exhibitions (1972, 1977, 1982, and 1992). Garnering multiple awards throughout his career for his exceptionally wide ranging and conceptually challenging practice, Nauman has received 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. Since 1975, he has been represented in New York by Sperone Westwater. Nauman lives in New Mexico with his wife, the painter Susan Rothenberg.


Solo Exhibition Catalogues (Chronological order)

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. Bruce Nauman: Work from 1965 to 1972. Exhibition, December 19, 1972 – February 18, 1973. Texts by Jane Livingston and Marcia Tucker. Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Praeger, New York, 1973, c1972.

Richardson, Brenda, Bruce Nauman: Neons. Exhibition December 19, 1982 – February 13, 1983. The Baltimore Museum of Art. Curated by Brenda Richardson. Baltimore Museum of Art, 1982.

Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Bruce Nauman. Exhibition, January 16, 1986 – February 22, 1987. Essays by Nicholas Serota, Joan Simon, and Jean Christophe Ammann. Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1986.

Castelli Graphics, New York, Lorence • Monk Gallery, New York, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. Bruce Nauman: Prints 1970-89. Exhibition, September 16 – October 14, 1989 at Castelli Graphics, New York, and Lorence • Monk Gallery, New York. Exhibition, September 26 – October 21, 1989, at Donald Young Gallery Chicago. Catalogue raisonné and essay by John Yau and interview with Christopher Cordes. Castelli Graphics, New York; Lorence • Monk Gallery, New York; Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, 1989.

Halbreich, Kathy and Benezra, Neal, Bruce Nauman. Exhibition, April 10 – June 19, 1994. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Edited by Joan Simon. Catalogue raisonné and texts by Neal Benezra, Kathy Halbreich, Paul Schimmel, and Robert Storr. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1994.

The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut. Bruce Nauman: 1985-1996, Drawings, Prints, and Related Works. Exhibition May 4 – August 31,1997. Essays by Jill Snyder and Ingrid Schaffner. The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997.

Hayward Gallery, London. Bruce Nauman. Exhibition July 16 – September 6, 1998. Curated by Christine van Assche; coordinated by Cristina Ricupero. The South Bank Centre, 1998.

Van De Weghe Fine Art, New York. Bruce Nauman: Neons Sculptures Drawings. Exhibition October 17-December 14, 2002. Essay by Robert Storr. Van de Weghe Fine Art Publication, 2002.

Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin. Bruce Nauman: Theaters of Experience. Exhibition October 31, 2003- January 18, 2004. Texts by Thomas Krens, Susan Cross, and Christine Hoffmann. Guggenheim Museum Publication, 2003.

Tate Modern, London. Raw Materials. Exhibition, October 12, 2004 – March 28, 2005. Texts by Michael Auping, Emma Dexter, and Ben Borthwick. Tate Publishing, 2004.

Ketner II, Joseph D., Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light. Exhibition January 28 – April 9, 2006. Milwaukee Art Museum. Essays by Joseph D. Ketner II, Janet Kraynak, and Gregory Volk. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006.

NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft, Düsseldorf. Bruce Nauman: Mental Exercises. Exhibition, September 9, 2006 – January 14, 2007. Curated by Werner Lippert and Friederike Wappler. NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft, 2006.

Sillars, Laurence, Make Me Think Me. Exhibition, May 19 – August 28, 2006. Tate Liverpool, London. Essays by Laurence Sillars, Johanna Drucker, Anna Dezeuze, Christoph Grunenberg, and Lynne Cooke. Tate Publishing, 2006.

Lewallen, Constance M., A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s. Exhibition January 17 – April 15, 2007. Berkeley Art Museum. Essays by Robert R. Riley, Robert Storr, and Anne M. Wagner. University of California Press, 2007.

Books (Chronological order)

van Bruggen, Coosje. Bruce Nauman. New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1988.

Morgan, Robert C. Bruce Nauman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Kraynak, Janet. Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words; Writings and Interviews/Bruce Nauman. Cambridge: First MIT Press paperback edition, 2005.

Social Media
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr/YouTube: @philamuseum

We are Philadelphia’s art museum. A landmark building. A world-renowned collection. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

For additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art phone at 215-684-7860, by fax at 215-235-0050, or by e-mail at The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100.

Return to Previous Page