Tolerable Bully

Tolerable Bully

In the obsequious wake of Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman’s artwork can be like an obnoxious bully who won’t shut up. But it so happens this kid is smarter than most, and everybody knows it, so they put up with him and start to follow him around and emulate him. “Yes Bruce Nauman” offers a look at this influential artist’s work and that of artists whose work he has impacted.

Encapsulated in Jessica Diamond’s simple painting, “Yes Bruce Nauman,” the result is a carnivalesque snapshot of a raucous, and intellectually playful side of contemporary art. It explores Nauman’s fascination with man’s tenuous balance between civilization and wild nature.

Even before entering the gallery, the eye is caught by Mungo Thomson’s “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (12-Step),” a window mounted bumper sticker reformatting of a 1967 neon spiral Nauman. Charles Ray’s “Plank Piece I-II”—photos of dummies pinned awkwardly by the waist and knees by tilted planks—allude to Nauman’s experimentation with the body, and the absurd, at times biting, current that runs under his work and surfaces frequently.

Videotapes featuring the body as medium loops continuously. Nauman’s clips (“Flesh to White to Black to Flesh” and “Bouncing Balls”) display the artist’s fearlessness in turning the camera on himself to raise issues of identity and sexual objectification. “Bouncing Balls,” reinterpreted by Francesco Vezzoli, features a porn star acting out the title in a bizarrely commercial rendition. Another Nauman video of a clown mid-tantrum, “No, No, New Museum (Clown torture series),” is scarily hilarious. Paul McCarthy raises the deviant behavior factor with his “Black and White Tapes,” a compilation dating just a couple of years after Nauman’s videos.

Nauman frequently treats language in neon. A couple of his sculptures spell out words in one color, and outline sub-words with a second color (“Eat/Death”). Glenn Ligon spells “negro sunshine” in neon, but titles it “Warm Broad Glow.” Jason Rhoades, who sadly passed away recently at 41, contributed a concise (for him) construction, “Black Hole, Poontain,” broadly resembling a found object scarecrow—its title words in neon delineating abstract yet loaded elements. In simple white and red neon, Stefan Bruggeman echoes Nauman’s petulant clown in “No No No No.” And Peter Coffin’s neon sculpture, “Untitled (Line after B. Nauman’s The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths)” is Nauman’s credo unspooled into an elegant, abstract tumble of luminous white.

Nauman has also been intrigued with confronting mortality and man’s place in nature and the environs. “Andrew Head/Julie Head/ Rinde Head,” a wax cast of three heads, could be a memoir to three friends, or death portraits. Jan Mancuska reacts to Nauman’s cast chairs, leaving the ghost of a chair on the wall, picked out by gunshot lodged in the plaster. Marc Swanson’s crystal studded trophy deer head, takes Nauman’s taxidermic cast wax beasts one step further—the ultimate taming, and accessorizing of a symbol of the wild.