Press Release

The Unilever Series: Bruce Nauman

Tate Modern  Turbine Hall
12 October 2004 – 28 March 2005

The American artist Bruce Nauman, who was recently awarded the prestigious international Praemium Imperiale Award, is to undertake the fifth in The Unilever Series of commissions for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. This commission will open to the public on 12 October 2004 and follows works by Louise Bourgeois (2000), Juan Muñoz (2001), Anish Kapoor (2002) and Olafur Eliasson (2003). The Unilever Series of commissions for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall has recently been extended for a further three years, until 2008, thanks to continued support from Unilever.

Nauman’s practice is famously diverse. He was one of the first artists to explore the full range of media, materials and ways of working that were opened up by radical art practice in the 1960s, and which are now a central part of contemporary art practice. Nauman has always moved effortlessly between photography, drawing, text, video, performance, sculpture and installation, and has made work inspired by speech, slogans, and the surroundings of everyday life. A common theme throughout his career is Nauman’s search for immediacy of effect. He has described his work as ‘art which was just there all at once’, which is ‘like getting hit in the back of the neck’.

Nauman was deeply influenced in his early career by the writer Samuel Beckett and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and has remained fascinated by the possibilities of language. In works ranging from purely acoustic explorations of the rhythms of text, to his many powerfully visual neon text pieces, Nauman uses words and the device of repetition, to investigate both the human condition and the nature of art. In his 1968 sound installation, Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of this Room, for example, the title phrase is repeatedly uttered in a variety of intonations in a small empty room, creating a sense of disquiet and unease. It is this aspect of his work that Nauman will draw on for his contribution to The Unilever Series. Differing from all the previous installations in the Series, Nauman’s will be a sound work using the human voice.

Humour and absurdity also feature prominently in Nauman’s work, building towards a profound existential climax. In Clown Torture, 1987, a clown becomes increasingly frustrated as he is forced to endlessly recount a simple circular joke: ‘Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence……’ However, underlying all Nauman’s art are moral and ethical concerns relating to a broad range of issues. He has said that he is motivated by frustration with the human condition and by humanity’s innate cruelty and obtuseness. In a recent video work World Peace 1996, a diverse cast of actors endlessly rehearses the words ‘We’ll talk – They’ll listen/You’ll talk – We’ll listen/They’ll talk – You’ll listen’. Characteristically, the meaning of the work remains ambiguous, and the viewer is left to ponder the true nature of international dialogue and summit conferences, as well as human communication in general.

Nauman was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He studied mathematics, physics, art and music at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and gained an MA in art at the University of California, Davis. He now lives and works on a ranch in northern New Mexico. Nauman’s video, performance art and sculpture have had a profound impact on a younger generation of artists internationally. His work is in private and public collections worldwide, including those of Tate, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. A major retrospective, organised by the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, travelled throughout America and Europe from 1993 to 1995. In 1998, the Hayward Gallery, London, presented the touring exhibition Bruce Nauman: Image/Text, 1966-1996 organised by Centre Pompidou, Paris.

For more information please call 020 7887 8008.