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A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s

Nauman’s Collaborations

Bruce Nauman: Self-Portrait as a Fountain (from the portfolio Eleven Color Photographs), 1966–67; chromogenic development print; 19 7/8 x 23 3/16 in.; Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Gerald S. Elliott Collection 1994.11.j. Photo: Michael Tropea © MCA, Chicago. © 2006 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The extraordinarily influential American artist Bruce Nauman began his career here in Northern California, first as a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, from 1964 to 1966, and then as a young artist teaching part time at the San Francisco Art Institute until 1969, when he left for Southern California.

Nauman forged close relationships with several artists in those early years. First and foremost among them was William T. Wiley, a professor at UC Davis. Only four years older than Nauman, Wiley was inspiring, always open and receptive to unorthodox ideas, and free of preconceptions. His own work has always been a by-product of his life (the synchronicity of art and life is shared by many artists in the region), and anything and everything was potential content for his art. Nauman appreciated Wiley's wordplay and learned from him not to worry about how a thing looked, and that it was okay to work, as Wiley did, in multiple styles and media. He said Wiley was the "strongest influence I had. It was in being rigorous, being honest with yourself—trying to be clear—taking a moral position . . . Bill was one of the first that gave me an idea of moral commitment, the worth of being an artist.”

Painter William Allan taught briefly at Davis and collaborated with Nauman on four films. The two artists had a common intent, in Nauman's words "making a film without considering art." Allan explained further that in the spirit of the time, they intuitively understood that if you put together the right people and materials in the right situation, something interesting would come out of it. Their first film, Fishing for Asian Carp, features Allan, an avid fisherman to this day, doing just as the title describes, and ends when he hooks a fish. Allan and Nauman, who operated the camera, made the film in the form of a travelogue with narration provided by the filmmaker Bob Nelson (who was also responsible for the sound recording and editing, which neither Allan nor Nauman knew how to do). Nauman added sound effects by sloshing water in a bucket. In 2000, Nauman made a digital video, Setting a Good Corner (Allegory and Metaphor), that, despite higher production values, doesn't deviate from the basic philosophy of early works like Fishing for Asian Carp—the straightforward recording of a task from beginning to end.

Nauman collaborated with photographer Jack Fulton on several works, including the series Eleven Color Photographs. In these large and luridly colored photographs, Nauman explored the relationship between words and images in visual and verbal puns. At that time, according to Fulton, neither color nor large scale were very much practiced in photography, “except perhaps by an ad agency with a lot of money." Using Nauman's 2 1/4-by-2 1/4-inch Yashica, they photographed the setups with bicolored lights. Nauman made the "nice but funky trays from 1/2-by-2-inch molding and Masonite from a lumber store," and Fulton bought the chemicals, paper, and coffee cup heaters to warm the chemicals. "It took about forty-five minutes in the dark to make a print in those days, so we'd make a test and go at it again until it looked good to both of us," Fulton said. Fulton also took the photographs in the screenprints Studies for Holograms, made in preparation for Nauman's work in holography, a new medium that had yet to be explored by artists. In these works, Nauman contorts his face with the idea of making images strong enough to prevent the seductive holographic technology from dominating. During the course of planning the exhibition, Fulton found several outtakes from this series, which are being exhibited here for the first time.

Constance Lewallen
Senior Curator for Exhibitions

A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Joan Roebuck, Sperone Westwater, the Getty Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, Nancy and Steven Oliver, the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley, Rena Bransten, Tecoah and Thomas Bruce, and Ann Hatch and Paul Discoe.

Exclusive media sponsor: The San Francisco Bay Guardian