Several years ago, while visiting Venice I spoke to an artist, and during our conversation, he mentioned that seeing a retrospective of Bruce Nauman at the Centre Pompidou in the late 90s was a pivotal moment in his life. At the time of our conversation, I hadn’t spoken to many visual artists, but now several years later after speaking to many, I realize that it was a rare confession to hear one artist speak so openly about another’s direct influence.
This year, when I visited the Biennale, I began my journey strategically at the Arsenale. As we walked into the first room, where I had stood alone and transfixed in 2013 at the large sculpture of the Encyclopedic Palace for several minutes of total bliss, I was confronted with Nauman’s neon sculptures.
The clash of colors and words were arresting. So much of Nauman’s work is so viscerally timeless and punk. If you look beyond all the hype and speculation around the new contemporary art and technology movements, one can trace so much influence to Nauman’s often caustic and jarring works. Thematically, they force us to confront the way we look at consumerism and happiness without even thinking about it. As we walked through the first room of installations, it jarred me into the thinking that this edition of this art show I travel halfway around the world to see every two years was going to be as disruptive an experience as I expected. One that I would be inspired to write about for weeks and years to come.
Installation view of Bruce Nauman’sHuman Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983, neon, 107 1/2 by 107 inches; at the Arsenale, “All the World’s Futures,” 56th Venice Biennale, 2015. Photo by me.