Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY, USA
21 October 2018 – 17 March 2019
The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 will collaborate on the first comprehensive retrospective in 25 years devoted to the work of American artist Bruce Nauman (b. 1941). Co-organized by The Museum of Modern Art and Schaulager Basel, Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts will draw upon the rich holdings of both institutions and over 70 lenders. Encompassing Nauman’s career, the exhibition will occupy the entire Museum’s sixth floor and the whole of MoMA PS1. This joint presentation will provide an opportunity to experience Nauman’s command of a wide range of mediums, from drawing, printmaking, photography, and neon to performance, video, film, sculpture, and architecturally scaled environments.
For nearly 50 years, Bruce Nauman has been widely acknowledged as a central figure in contemporary art. He has continuously explored how spatial and psychological tensions—provoked by shifting perceptions of time, sound, language, and movement—structure human experience. Subtle ethical questions are often masked as stark dichotomies, and sudden flashes or breakdowns of meaning in wordplay are key to his artistic arsenal.
MoMA has a long history with Bruce Nauman. The Museum of Modern Art’s collection includes more than 80 works by the artist, among them the joint acquisition, with the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, Schaulager Basel, of two major installations: Days (2009) and Contrapposto Studies, i through vii (2015/2016). The Museum hosted the last major traveling retrospective of his work in 1995, also co-curated by Kathy Halbreich, and Nauman was among the artists included in MoMA PS1’s inaugural exhibition, Rooms, in 1976. Disappearing Acts will mark the US premiere of his 3-D video projection Contrapposto Split (2017). Shot in state-of-the-art 4K 120-fps 3-D, the work reinterprets the iconography of his seminal 1968 video Walk with Contrapposto. Another rarely seen work—the nearly 50-foot-long Kassel Corridor (Elliptical Space) (1972)—will be on view in New York for the first time.
Since 1970, Nauman has frequently worked on a monumental scale, necessitating this expansive presentation across both of MoMA’s locations. Both venues include works in all mediums and from all phases of Nauman’s career, offering distinct but complementary perspectives on his wide-ranging practice. The characteristics of the two spaces have shaped the curatorial approach to each: the flexibility of The Museum of Modern Art’s sixth-floor exhibition galleries will accommodate six of the artist’s largest works, alongside a representative selection of his production across the decades; while the suite of former classrooms in MoMA PS1’s historic building will house over 120 works in a more traditional retrospective format. At The Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition moves swiftly from Nauman’s early work examining his own body to works that directly involve the viewer, who must navigate a series of room-sized installations that dictate movement and stress the senses. At MoMA PS1, Disappearing Acts will unfold chronologically, but with strategic interruptions to highlight consistencies in a seemingly disparate body of work, as Nauman revisits earlier motifs and concerns with new urgency.
“The exhibition’s title refers to the manifold appearances of disappearance in Nauman’s work. It is seen, for example, in holes the size of a body part, in the space under a chair, in the self vanishing around a corner, in the nocturnal goings-on of the empty studio, and in the mental blocks that empty creative possibility,” said Halbreich. “For Nauman, disappearance is both a real phenomenon and a magnificently ample metaphor for grappling with the anxieties of both the creative process and of navigating the everyday world.”
A major publication accompanying the exhibition will offer a comprehensive view of the artist’s work in all mediums. Nineteen contributions by a wide range of authors—artists, curators, and historians of art, architecture, and film—focus on topics that have been largely neglected in writings on Nauman. Halbreich’s introductory essay explores Nauman’s many acts of disappearance, withdrawal, and deflection as revelatory of his central formal and intellectual concerns. The catalogue also includes the first narrative exhibition history to trace his career in depth, richly illustrated with rare and previously unpublished images.
Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts is organized by Kathy Halbreich, Laurenz Foundation Curator and Advisor to the Director, The Museum of Modern Art; with Heidi Naef, Chief Curator, and Isabel Friedli, Curator, Schaulager Basel; and Magnus Schaefer, Assistant Curator, and Taylor Walsh, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art.
The exhibition is made possible by the Laurenz Foundation, Schaulager Basel.
Leadership support is provided by The Sandra and Tony Tamer Exhibition Fund. Major support is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art and by The Jill and Peter Kraus Endowed Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions.
Generous funding is provided by The Hayden Family Foundation, Sully Bonnelly and Robert R. Littman, Ellen and William Taubman, and by The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art.
Additional support is provided by the MoMA PS1 Annual Exhibition Fund and by The Museum of Modern Art’s Annual Exhibition Fund with major contributions from the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, Alice and Tom Tisch, Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, Brett and Daniel Sundheim, Karen and Gary Winnick, The Marella and Giovanni Agnelli Fund for Exhibitions, and Oya and Bülent Eczacıbaşı.