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Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light

October 13, 2006 - January 7, 2007


Recognized as one of America's most provocative and innovative artists working today, Bruce Nauman addresses the essential elements of human existence, challenging the parameters of contemporary art through nontraditional materials.

A major retrospective exhibition of Nauman's work in neon and fluorescent light will be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) from October 13, 2006 through January 7, 2007. Titled Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, the exhibition includes16 of Nauman's word play and identity signs, fluorescent light environments, and figurative neons, from the 1960s through the mid-1980s.

Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light traces Nauman's use of light as a medium that is both sensual and contemplative while aggressively penetrating the environment with its message and imagery. Nauman varies his artistic process to meet the demands of his ideas, using a variety of media. Light, an enduring symbol for spiritual invigoration, offered the artist a medium with which to explore how perception is shaped, and logic and meaning is conveyed. In Nauman's hands, the playful carnival-like nature of neon is transformed into psychological, social, sexual and political inquiry, often presented with irony and humor.

"This exhibition is all about the visitor's experience," said Joseph D. Ketner II. "Visitors will walk into a gallery full of neon signs and fluorescent light environments. They'll experience a disorientation of light and space, just as Nauman intended."

Nauman, a Wisconsin native who lives in New Mexico, first worked with light in the mid-1960s at which time he became intrigued with the neon advertising signs on the streets outside his studio. His early light series grappled with the semiotics of body and identity. Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals (1966), which grew out of a performance work, is an innovative exercise in portraiture as sculpture. The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967 challenges art as transformative. My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of Moon (1968) addresses name in relation to identity while at the same time challenging the value placed on an artist's signature.

Nauman's word game neons evoke poetry that cuts to the essence of the human condition. The confrontational potential of neon offers harsh and socio-political commentary in such pieces as Raw War (1970), Violins Violence Silence (1981-82) and Run From Fear, Fun from Rear (1972). The monumental One Hundred Live and Die (1984), his largest and most complex neon piece, overwhelms the viewer with strong directives.

Nauman's fluorescent light environments use illumination and mirrors to create oblique, disorienting spaces such as Corridor with Mirror and White Lights (1971) that is a marked contrast to the bright imagery and clipped language of the neon signs.

The pictorial potential of signs is portrayed in the series of large works representing life sizes figure in flashing lights which simulate action. The humor of the stick-figured Hanged Man (1985) quickly turns to horror when the game culminates with a graphic execution. The jerky interaction of the two figures in Mean Clown Welcome (1985) suggest the conflicting forces of attraction and repulsion in human relationships, as the figures both welcome and battle one another.

Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light is organized by the Milwaukee Museum of Art in Wisconsin, and curated by Joseph D. Ketner, II, chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The exhibition will be on view at MOCA during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.

Elusive Signs is sponsored by Andy and Carlene Ziegler. At MOCA, the exhibition is sponsored in part by Daniel and Toni Holtz, Jeanne and Michael Klein and Jacquelyn Klein

Elusive Signs will be on view at MOCA North Miami through January 7, 2006 after which it will travel to the Henry Gallery, University of Washington, the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Victoria and Queensland Art Gallery, Australia. A 96-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition with essays by Joseph Ketner II, chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Janet Kraynak, a New York based art historian, and critic Gregory Volk.


(above: Bruce Nauman, Mean Clown Welcome, 1985, neon tubing mounted on metal monolith, 72 x 82 x 13 inches. Udo and Annette Brandhorst Collection)

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 770 NE 125th Street in North Miami, Florida. The museum's new annex MOCA at Goldman Warehouse is located in the Wynwood Arts District at 404 NW 26th Street, just north of Downtown Miami. Exhibitions and programs at MOCA are made possible through grants from the City of North Miami, the Florida Arts Council, the Department of State, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, Cultural Affairs Council, the Mayor and Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami is accredited by the American Association of Museums. Please see the museum's website for hours and admission fees.

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