This is a large, three-colour lithograph. It depicts the upper bodies of two men, seen in profile, shaking hands. The men are clowns, although this is not obvious from their appearance. They are smiling, open-mouthed, at each other. The contours of their bodies are printed in red and blue parallel lines. The lines are uneven in thickness and density and disrupted by areas where colour has been blocked in with a thick utensil. Yellow has also been used for shading. There is more blue colour on the clown on the left, while the clown on the right appears more red and yellow. Behind each clown’s head is a diagram of a side view of a male groin with an erect and a flaccid penis. A curved line with arrows pointing up and down indicates movement of the penis from erect to flaccid and vice versa. The one on the left is drawn in blue, the one on the right in red, balancing the clown’s colours. The erect penises have been roughly blocked in using red. The movement up and down is echoed by the clowns’ forearms, each repeated in two positions. Their outstretched hands, symbolically shaking each other, are not visible as distinct entities because of the layers of repeated lines as well as splodges and drips of ink on the paper. Ink has also run down the page, resulting in vertical lines. Inside the outlines of the arms, the letters A and B (back-to-front because of printing process) enclose short vertical lines with arrows pointing up and down to emphasise the movement up and down. At the top of the page the handwritten words ‘hand pumps up + down/penis pumps up + down’ appear back to front in blue. The image was printed and published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles in an edition of fifty. This is number thirty-three in the edition.
Untitled is one of a series of twelve prints titled Fingers and Holes which Nauman created in 1994 in collaboration with Gemini G.E.L.. It was made using plates for a print the artist had proofed at Gemini in 1985, but which had never been released. When Nauman visited Gemini in 1993 to resolve the seven etchings in the group of prints, the 1985 lithographic proofs were brought out for his consideration. As well as creating Untitled, by successively printing each of the three plates (yellow, then red, then blue) in brighter colours, he decided to use the plates individually. The red plate was printed alone in black to create another Untitled image. A further Untitled image was created using the blue plate in black with the addition of a centre element, a version of one of the seven Untitled etchings. The pair of hands depicted in this etching were used as a unit, repeated five times to form a circle, to create Untitled (Tate P77804), the series’ only monoprint.
Speaking of the original (1985) lithograph in 1989, Nauman explained his interest in clowns: ‘I did an earlier clown print ... but it has never been released. The basic idea came from the clown videotapes I did ... Like the reference to a “mask”, the clown is another form of disguise ... The traditional role of a clown is to be either funny or threatening – their position or function is ambiguous, and I like that.’ (Quoted in Bruce Nauman: Fingers and Holes, p.6.) In 1985 clown imagery predominated in Nauman’s works on paper, in neon and in video. Big Welcome and Mean Clown Welcome (both Leo Castelli Gallery, New York) are neons depicting hands and penises moving up and down in dialogue with one another. In Big Welcome only body parts are represented. Mean Clown Welcome is a scenario between two clowns who alternately stand straight and bend forward, their huge gloved hands and outsize penises reaching out towards each other.
Coosje van Bruggen, Bruce Nauman, New York 1988
Bruce Nauman: Fingers and Holes, Los Angeles and New York 1994, pp.4, 6 and 17, reproduced (colour) pp.19-20
Jill Snyder, Bruce Nauman: 1985-1996: Drawings, Prints and Related Works, exhibition catalogue, Alrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997, pp.76-7, reproduced (colour) p.73