Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bruce Nauman at Donald Young Gallery

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Donald Young is one of the very few galleries in the city that has A-list artists showing work with them. Specifically art made on the occasion of the show. Not second market art, or editions of prints. Also Donald Young is one of the few that makes it in/to the art fairs that matter. Sure it’s shitty, but art fairs are where it’s at. Specifically Art Basel Miami, The Armory Show and The Frieze Art Fair. Art Chicago and Nova don’t count in the wide scope of jet-setting fair-hopping. (Either anymore or yet)

The gallery recently took out a two-page spread in Artforum. No Chicago galleries take out big ads, and hardly any at all do two page ones. That is heartening to see, I think. A gallery in our fair outpost playing in the big leagues. Usually it is only the Chelsea’s with full-page ads in the Vogue of the art world. Perhaps this is shallow and all. But this stuff matters, especially in the current money and recognition climate. I am much more interested in this than in hearing about the how self-appointed rulers of Chicago’s cloistered art community are planning on getting more isolated by moving into a down-home art barn.

That said, Bruce Nauman recently had an installation of sculptural fountains and drawings at Donald Young Gallery. Here is a write up of the show:

The sculptures were a fresh and contemporary approach to the fountain. Squirting at high power, slowing and shutting off like cycles of rainstorms. The ceiling and the floor were connected with the objects in the middle. Tubes ran up from pools to the sculptures. Wires hung down suspending them.

The raw edges showed, as is typical with Bruce Nauman. It is a well thought-out aesthetic which is absent from the drawings. With the sculptures the look was at once refined and crude. The pumps showed, the wires were hastily twisted; the black rubber lining the pools flopped about the floor, all of which are more about utilitarianism than about looking good. And this made it look good. These things all ended up being carefully postured elements of the composition.

Nauman Woody

The author's cat, Woody, stares in silent contemplation at the NAWnAN ECnRB two-page spread Artforum.

The drawings, in theory, nicely set off the noisy, wet, sculpture installations, but really did nothing. They were bland and refined in such a way as to be gallery fluff. Seeing the completed and much more captivating fountains is enough. We don’t need sketches. The gallery of drawings was aptly and humorously referred to as “the gift shop” in the Bad at Sports podcast review. It is understandable why the gallery would have the drawings up. The gallery of drawings was superfluous and only distracted from the main focus of the exhibition.

The main gallery was filled with One Hundred Fish Fountain (2005), which was actually only 97 fish. Which is kind of cool that it is three short. The fish swam in space. And the water squirting everywhere was like a simulation of being in a tank with the fish. The wires suspending the fish were twisted around the fins or threaded large eyelets. These came from a huge suspended metal grid structure. Again, the goal is hanging the heavy bronze fish more than making it look good. So the sloppy wires were juxtaposed with the highly detailed cast fish. And that results in an aesthetic of sorts.

In the smaller gallery were two sculpture fountains on the same theme of hanging over a rubber basin and squirting water. But they were also organized on the theme of epoxy resin heads Nauman has been working with for a while. Both fountains consisted of a group of three heads.

The heads hung as lifeless objects squirting water as though they’d sprung leaks. Who did these head’s belong to? Were they the artist’s head? No, they were people Nauman knows. One group of heads gallery was called 3 Heads Fountain (3 Andrews) (2005) was three casts of Andrew Peters. The heads are familiar because they have cropped up a lot in Nauman’s work. The Andrew body of work started in 1989.

The other sculpture of the pair was 3 Heads Fountain (Juliet, Andrew, Rinde) (2005). So again was Andrew, and also Juliet Myers, the artist’s studio assistant. And Rinde Eckert, an opera singer Nauman collaborated with on the sound piece Anthro/Socio (1991)

The show didn’t really have anything to say. And the fact that Nauman has been working with rubbery heads for 15 some years doesn’t count as meaning. Bruce Nauman is a favorite of graduate students and elitist academics of a certain vein. England also loves Nauman. There is always a significant amount of his work up at the Tate Modern. This makes sense because he is one of the spiritual godfathers of Young British Art. Nauman is good, but he is also over rated. And the incessant in-depth over analyzing of his work and its purported profoundness is a disservice. This is probably why he moved to a ranch in New Mexico. It is a problem when an artist such as Nauman is crowned as an infallible art genius. When this happens there is no distinction between good and bad works by the artist. There is no success or failure, only a meaningless squirting of fluids.

The drawings in the Donald Young show were total rubbish anyway you look at it. But the sculpture fountains were great. Maybe they didn’t say much. Maybe if a PhD in contemporary art theory was there to school me on the works’ finer points it would have meant more. But what I do know is that the work was engaging. The sights and sounds of the huge contraptions cycling on and off was strangely peaceful and meditative. And he is a famous artist, so I was also a little bit star struck.

E. Wenzel

1 comment:

Daniel Quiles said...

I'd give that PhD some thought. Not in "contemporary art," however-- postwar!

And start reading criticism.