Bruce Nauman - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985

  • Literature

    Coosje van Bruggen, Dieter Koepplin and Franz Meyer, Bruce Nauman: Drawings 1965-1986, exh. cat., Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, 1986, no. 508, n.p. (illustrated, erroneously orientated)
    Neal Benezra, et. al., Bruce Nauman, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1994, p. 294

  • Catalogue Essay

    Bruce Nauman’s Double Slap in the Face is a seminal example from 1985 that marked the artist's distinct shift of focus from language towards an investigation of human behavior. Capturing the near slapstick activity of two opposed figures repetitively slapping each other’s faces with disembodied hands, the work is instantaneously recognizable as the blueprint for the iconic neon sculpture Double Slap in the Face, 1985. Appearing like a graphic equivalent to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion, the drawing’s multicolored lines and accompanying notations convey on paper the schematic movement Nauman would later translate in sculptural form into an alternating sequence of flashing neon lights. Here, the entire arc of movement is presented simultaneously, giving rise to an enticing semi-abstract image. Double Slap in the Face is a remarkable example of Nauman’s acclaimed draftsmanship, the significance of which is currently being celebrated in the exhibition Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    For Nauman, drawing is the visual equivalent to thinking. Since his abandonment of painting in the 1960s, drawing has formed the backbone of his multifarious practice that encompasses sculpture, performance, installations, film and video, printmaking, photography and neon. Responding to differing functions and demands, drawing can enter Nauman’s creative process at various stages – at times serving as detailed studies for his sculptures, other times presenting a creative continuation of an already executed work. Works such as the present one represented the development of a visual framework that put forth an unexpected departure from Nauman’s previous text-based work – both in process and theme.

    Double Slap in the Face shows how the human figure in 1985 took center stage in the form of brightly colored stick figures and silhouettes after years of absence since Nauman’s body performances in the late 1960s. To create silhouettes as in the present work, Nauman traced the contours of his own and partner Harriet Lindenberg’s body parts on cardboard in various poses, repositioning and retracing the resulting templates to convey schematic movement within a singular plane. Though the outstretched hands in some drawings are arranged to convey the welcoming gesture of a handshake, in the present work Nauman has arranged them in an arc to convey the full movement of repeated slapping.

    If Nauman’s films and videos from the late 1960s captured the artist performing various repetitive, absurd actions, these drawings and their resulting neons honed in on psychologically more ambivalent interpersonal actions and gestures. Ranging from slapping, punching, kicking or poking various body orifices, the figure’s repetitive activities seem to unfold akin to a slapstick version of Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty or Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Nauman has also highlighted the connection to the puppet theater of Punch and Judy, in which the amoral Punch gives in to his violent impulses and gets away with acting brutally towards those around him. Yet while Punch gets away, Nauman’s figures reciprocate the actions in kind – engaging in an endless cycle of violence that neither escalates nor finds a resolution. The present work essentially subverts the Christian doctrine of “if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also”, putting forth a confrontational work that explores darker aspects of human morality.

    Wholly defying the art world’s expectations, the figurative body of work Nauman created during the productive year of 1985 represented a key turning point in the artist’s practice. Nauman’s investigation of the breakdown of communication in the form of individual vignettes ultimately set the foundation for the seminal video piece Violent Incident, 1986, Tate Modern, London. This revival of video in Nauman’s practice after years of absence also marked the end of the artist’s engagement with the material of neon after that year.

    Situated at that critical juncture, Double Slap in the Face attests to the crucial role of drawing in Nauman’s multimedia practice – a fact that was celebrated shortly after its execution with the artist’s first drawings retrospective at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, and the New Museum, New York in 1986 and 1987. Offering unique insights into Nauman’s creative process, the present work powerfully demonstrates, as Roberta Smith noted, the “freed-up gesture and immediacy that can make drawing the visual equivalent of thinking out loud…both his mind and sensibility are more accessible, more on the surface here” (Roberta Smith, “Art: Bruce Nauman Retrospective”, The New York Times, October 30, 1987, online).

Property from The Over Holland Collection


Double Slap in the Face

signed and dated "B Nauman 85" lower right
wax crayon and graphite on paper
29 3/4 x 43 3/8 in. (75.6 x 110.2 cm.)
Executed in 1985.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $435,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018