The four prints which make up the Frankfurt Portfolio are the result of several stages of cutting out, collage and lithographic printing. The series is based on a single photograph of a sculpture Nauman made in 1989 titled Perfect Balance (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt). In 1990 Nauman was awarded the Max Beckmann Prize (awarded by the city of Frankfurt). He used a photograph of the sculpture Perfect Balance for the invitation cards for the award ceremony. He subsequently used eight of the printed invitation cards to create four collages titled Perfect Balance 1990 (Vandermolen Collection, Ghent). The four collages were reproduced by offset lithography to make the series of prints titled Frankfurt Portfolio. The sculpture Perfect Balance consists of a wax cast of a head and neck (eyes closed and tongue sticking out) suspended upside down on top of a small, old-fashioned video monitor. The video shows black and white footage of a left hand with clenched fingers, the middle finger extended and pointing upwards in a hostile gesture. In the sculpture the finger points upwards at the inverted head as though the head is balanced on the finger. The four collages and subsequent prints comprise four permutations in which the photograph of the sculpture is doubled. The top half of the first image (Tate P78232) shows the original orientation of the sculpture, the head hanging above the monitor. This image has been inverted 180 degrees to provide a ‘mirror’ image in the bottom half of the page. The result is that the monitors, with hands pointing outwards, are in the centre, sandwiched between heads, pointing inwards at the top and bottom. The fourth image in the series (Tate P78235) presents the opposite configuration. The heads, joined at the neck, are in the centre of the image while the monitors, with hands pointing inwards, are at top and bottom. The second and third images rotate around a vertical rather than horizontal axis. In the second (Tate P78233) the side of each face on one card overlaps the edge of the monitor on the other. In the third image (Tate P78234) the sculptures’ ears overlap in the centre. In all the images, patterning is created by repetition of such lines as the grilles on the side of the monitor and the cables suspending both objects. At the top of the second image the printed words ‘“Perfect Balance” 1989’ and ‘oderne [sic] Kunst Frankfurt’ are visible upside down. Fragments of the same words appear the right way up at the bottom of the image. White marks left in the cards by staples are reproduced on all the prints. Smudged watermarks (possibly a result of the collage process) add texture to their beige background.
Hands and their gestures have been recurrent in Nauman’s work since the late 1960s, as have visual and verbal puns. Doubling, reflecting and repetition are typical techniques used to open out layers of complex meaning behind an apparently simple idea. The four prints of the Frankfurt Portfolio expand the possible range of visual signifiers provided by the repetition and mirroring of forms. With their range of positions and hence moods, they hint at one of Nauman’s important themes: the thin line between friendliness and aggression, support and attack in human relations, both private and public. Nauman produced a further sculptural version of the formal variations played out in the images of Frankfurt Portfolio in a pair of sculptural installations, Ten Heads Circle/In and Out (Pentti Kouri, Helsinki) and Ten Heads Circle/Up and Down (private collection, Los Angeles), both 1990. Each installation consists of ten wax cast heads suspended in pairs, one upside down, one right way up. For the In and Out version they are side by side. For the Up and Down work they are arranged top of head to top of head so that one appears to be balanced on the other.
Frankfurt Portfolio is issued in a red box with the artist’s name and the title printed on it in black capitals. It was published by Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf in an edition of thirty-five and printed by Druckerei Heinrich Winterscheidt Gmbh, Düsseldorf. Tate’s copy is number twenty-five in the edition. Each of the four prints is signed, numbered and dated by the artist in pencil.
Neal Benezra, Kathy Halbreich, Joan Simon, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis 1994
Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg 2000, reproduced (colour) p.88
Jill Snyder, Bruce Nauman: 1985-1996: Drawings, Prints and Related Works, exhibition catalogue, Alrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield 1997, pp.54-9