Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light

Bruce Nauman, Violins Violence Silence, 1981-82, Neon tubing with clear glass tubing suspension frame, Camille O. Hoffmann Collection, Chicago. Courtesy MCASD.

Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light–on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla–focuses solely on the Season 1artist’s neon sculptures and light-room installations. The exhibition consists of approximately 15 works created over the first two decades of Nauman’s career (1965–1985) and is arranged in sections. One area features Nauman’s early neons, which focus on the subject of identity; language, signs, and symbols make up another section; and the mechanics of perception are explored in the artist’s installations.

The exhibition was assembled by the Milwaukee Art Museum and has traveled to six additional venues in the United States, Canada and Australia. MCASD’s presentation includes several works not featured in previous installations of the show, such as Green Light Corridor (1970-71). This piece, which is illuminated with fluorescent lights, was first exhibited at the Museum as part of the 1971 exhibition, Body Movements; it is reinstalled in its original location. In a recent LA Times review, Leah Ollman wrote: “Nauman’s work in neon plays its reassuring vibrancy against the unease generated by its content. The two installations in the show are similarly seductive and destabilizing. Green Light Corridor…presents a narrow, free-standing hallway bathed in a lime glow. The passageway is passable, but not comfortably.”

The second installation, Helman Gallery Parallelogram (1971), is a room also lit with fluorescent lights that saturate the viewer’s vision with an intense green color. Upon leaving the room, one’s vision is, according to the press release, tinged with images of magenta, providing a spatial counterpoint to the neon signs. Ollman says, “The piece works like an optical fun house, a twisted Turrell.”

Elusive Signs closes August 31, 2008. A related publication is available at the MCASD and at Amazon.com.