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Influenced early on by philosophy and literature, Nauman’s work constantly tests rational systems of language, spatial and bodily boundaries, duration, and psychology through 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 overlooked and recorded viewers as they entered them. 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. After a ten-year hiatus, Nauman returned to his work with video in the mid-1980s 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 continue themes that have resurfaced throughout his oeuvre since the 1960s.
Museum exhibitions have continued to map Nauman’s practice, and notable solo shows include 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) ) in Kassel, Germany. 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. In 1979, Nauman moved to New Mexico where he continues to work and live along with his wife, the painter Susan Rothenberg.