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  • "For Bruce Nauman, drawing is equivalent to thinking."
    —Coosje van Bruggen

    A monumental rendering of Bruce Nauman’s eponymous sculpture executed the same year, Musical Chair, 1983, presents one of the artist’s most well-known themes while manifesting the importance of drawing to the artist’s practice. Referring to the children’s game, the present work coalesces Nauman’s deliberations on subject matter, form, and technique. Here, Nauman employed charcoal and ink to render two chairs suspended in mid-air beside two crossing I-beams, while annotating his visualization of the sculpture’s X-configuration from a bird’s-eye view in pencil at the lower left of the composition. Hailing from an esteemed private collection, where it has resided for nearly forty years since its execution, Musical Chair featured in Nauman’s 1985 exhibition, New Works on Paper 3, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A masterpiece of Nauman’s draftsmanship, Musical Chair offers a unique glimpse into the mind of one of the most conceptually rigorous artists of the 21st century. 

     

    The present work installed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New Works on Paper 3, June 26 –September 3, 1985. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN1401.14. Image: Katherine Keller, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    The present work installed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New Works on Paper 3, June 26 –September 3, 1985. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN1401.14. Image: Katherine Keller, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     "When I take the game, I take it out of context and apply it to moral or political situations. Or I load it emotionally in a way that it is not supposed to be loaded."
    —Bruce Nauman
    A critical motif in the artist’s oeuvre, the chair, Nauman expressed, “becomes a symbol for a figure—a stand-in for the figure. A chair is used, it is functional; but it is also symbolic. Think of the electric chair, or that chair they put you in when the police shine the lights on you. Because your imagination is left to deal with that isolation, the image becomes more powerful...The symbol is more powerful.”i Nauman’s suspended chairs typically serve as a metaphor for victims of political violence, which he first explored in South American Triangle, 1981. While discussing his series on musical chairs, Nauman expressed of the game, “Somebody is always left out. The first one to be excluded always feels terrible. That kid doesn’t get to play anymore, has nothing to do, has to stand in the corner...”1 Referencing and subverting a children’s game as he did in his notorious Hanged Man, 1985, Nauman invites viewers to contemplate the deeper moral questions that underlie such seemingly playful activities. At the same time, the present work ultimately reflects the act of making. In Musical Chair, “sculpture is presented as an object for meditation, and the drawing itself is presented as a spatial object.”ii

     

    Andy Warhol, Big Electric Chair, 1967-1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, Image: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "I do drawings to work the pieces out, to figure out how to proceed."
    —Bruce Nauman

    Unlike his multi-media works that invite audience participation and self-reflection, Nauman’s drawings act as conceptual blueprints that serve as a window into the artist’s mind. In the sculptural version of Musical Chair, the chairs hang from steel cables to make contact with the beams, thus chiming the titular “music.” While privying viewers to delight in its elegant rendering, the present work reflects the mathematical rigor and engineering exactitude Nauman employed to realize the sculpture. While making mostly quick, spontaneous sketches as notes for his sculptures, Nauman also executed larger drawings to resolve the problem of a sculpture or to envision its realization. Musical Chair is one of Nauman’s most ambitious drawings, which “frequently have a raw and unfinished look; corrections, erasures, dense undecipherable areas that indicate struggle—all signs of the artist’s mental process—are still visible.”iii In the present work, Nauman renders the chairs backless and one of the beams without its cables, contemplating the physics of their arrangement to make the music possible.

     

    [left] Nauman’s studio with preparatory sketch, May 1983. Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Musical Chairs, 1983. The Herbert Foundation, Gent, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] Nauman’s studio with preparatory sketch, May 1983. Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Musical Chairs, 1983. The Herbert Foundation, Gent, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York​​​​​

    i Bruce Nauman, quoted in Joan Simon, “Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Bruce Nauman,” Art in America, September 18, 1987, online.

    ii Bernice Rose, New Works on Paper 3, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1985, p. 10.

    iii The New Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report, The New Museum, New York, 1988.

    • Provenance

      Konrad Fischer Galerie, Dusseldorf
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Collectie Becht, March 16 - May 6, 1984
      Breda, De Beyerd Centrum Voor Beeldende Kunst, Collectie Becht, July 14 - September 2, 1984
      New York, Museum of Modern Art, New Work on Paper 3, June 27 - September 3, 1985
      Labège-Innopole, Centre d'Art Contemporain Midi-Pyrénées; Villeneuve-d'Ascq, Musée d'art moderne, Collection Agnès et Frits Becht, September 23, 1987 - April 11, 1988, p. 25 (installation view illustrated; erroneously dated 1981)
      Barcelona, Fundació Espai Poblenou, Bruce Nauman, November 7, 1991 - February 29, 1992, p. 208
      Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Museum Paleis Lange Voorhout, De Kamer, de Spiegel en het Raam, October 27, 1992 - January 24, 1993
      Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, Openingstentoontelling, March 9 - September 1995

    • Literature

      Bruce Nauman Drawings: 1965-1986, exh. cat., Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, 1986, no. 435, n.p. (illustrated; preliminary study for Musical Chair, artist's studio, May 1983, illustrated, p. 10)

Property from an Important Dutch Collection

Ο ◆40

Musical Chair

titled and inscribed "abstract chairs musical chairs" lower left; signed and dated "B. Nauman 83" lower right
ink and charcoal on paper
68 x 80 in. (172.7 x 203.2 cm)
Executed in 1983.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,482,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021