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    Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (detail), circa 1508-1512. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Image: Scala / Art Resource, NY

    Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (detail), circa 1508-1512. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Image: Scala / Art Resource, NY

     

     

    "My hand tells me what I’m thinking."
    —Pablo Picasso

     

     

    Exemplifying Bruce Nauman’s preoccupations with theme of the human body throughout his extensive oeuvre, Untitled (from Fifteen Pairs of Hands) is a stunning example of the artist’s acclaimed titular series that featured at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Executed in 1996, the sculpture encapsulates Nauman’s frequent practice of employing his own body in his lifelong investigations of self-exploration and corporeal communication. Timeless in subject matter, the present work personifies the human condition in its disembodiment, both attesting to the power of nonverbal communication and celebrating the foundational tools of artistic creation.

     

     

     

    Bruce Nauman, Fifteen Pairs of Hands, 1996, installed at the Venice Biennale, United States Pavilion, 2009. Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Bruce Nauman, Fifteen Pairs of Hands, 1996. Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

    "I used myself as an object...the attempt is to go from the specific to the general. Maybe it's the same kind of way of making a self-portrait, as Rembrandt made a self-portrait, and a lot of other people, making a self-portrait...making an examination of yourself and also making a generalization beyond yourself."
    —Bruce Nauman

     

     

    From the beginnings of his career, the artist would use his own body throughout his self-referential practice, believing it allowed him to develop a more holistic artistic sensibility. “I think because when you're trying to find something out, it's much easier to do, using yourself,” Nauman expressed. To use somebody else, “You have to make a whole different set of instructions, you have to think about the work: whether it's a performance or having a piece made or something; you have to be able to think about it in a different way. If I have an object fabricated out of steel or something then I have to know, maybe even more, because you have to tell somebody else everything, more than maybe you have to tell yourself.”i

     

     

     


    [left] Bruce Nauman, Welcome (Shaking Hands), 1985. Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Image: bpk Bildagentur / Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and finger), 2010. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Image: © 2021 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

    "I think there is a need to present yourself.
    To present yourself through your work is obviously part of being an artist...But artists are always interested in some level of communication."
    —Bruce Nauman

     

     

    Conceiving the series in the year of the present work’s creation, Nauman depicts pairs of hands united through various formations. In this particular iteration, he portrays two hands joined together that meet at the fingertips in striking detail, which not only highlights an acute sense of tactility but also lends itself to an empathic evocation of personal intimacy. At once delicate and robust, personal and universal, the present cast showcases Nauman’s masterful sculptural handling, emphasizing the musculature of the curved palms and fingers as well as the meticulous creases and wrinkles of the artist’s hand. By displacing the subject from its usual context of the body, Nauman reveals the expressive potential of simple gestures whilst opening up the work to the subjective interpretation and a multiplicity of meanings, materializing his own words: “What is given and what is withheld become the work...I try to make work that leaves options, or is open-ended in some way.”ii

     

     

     


    Poster by Bruce Nauman for his exhibition Bruce Nauman: Fifteen Pairs of Hands at Leo Castelli, New York, November 2 – December 14, 1996. Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

    From Michelangelo to Rodin, Géricault and Courbet to Picasso, the human hand has been the central symbol of artistic creation and communication. Throughout the history of the visual arts, the hand not only revealed an artist’s virtuosity in conveying expression through rendered form, but further became a leitmotif signaling the creative genius of the artist. In Untitled (from Fifteen Pairs of Hands), Nauman simultaneously conjures a lineage of masters in their studies of the human form and its parts and testifies to the hands as the mediator between the mind and the world. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci: “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”iii

     

     

     

    [left] Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man (Self-Portrait), 1843-1845. Private Collection, Image: HIP / Art Resource, NY [right] Pablo Picasso, Study of a Hand (The Hand of the Artist), 1920. Private Collection, © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    [left] Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man (Self-Portrait), 1843-1845. Private Collection, Image: HIP / Art Resource, NY [right] Pablo Picasso, Study of a Hand (The Hand of the Artist), 1920. Private Collection, © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     


    i Bruce Nauman, quoted in Michele de Angelus, “Oral History Interview with Bruce Nauman,” Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., May 27-30, 1980, transcript.

    ii Bruce Nauman, quoted in Joan Simon, “Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Bruce Nauman,” Art in America, September 1, 1988, online.

    iii Leonardo da Vinci, quoted in Joseph Comyns Carr, Essays on Art, London, 1897, p. 19. 

    • Provenance

      Sperone Westwater, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in April 1999

    • Exhibited

      New York, Leo Castelli, Bruce Nauman: Fifteen Pairs of Hands, November 2 - December 14, 1996 (another example exhibited and illustrated on the exhibition poster)
      Sante Fe, James Kelly Contemporary, Art in New Mexico, Part I: Works by Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg, Richard Tuttle, July 31 - October 2, 1998
      Venice, United States Pavillion at the Giardini della Biennale, Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, June 7 - November 22, 2009, pl. 7, p. 174 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 119)
      Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Bruce Nauman: Fifteen Pairs of Hands, March 2011 - January 2012 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Peter Plagens, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, Berlin, 2014, no. 261, p. 277 (another example illustrated)

Property from a Prominent Private Collection

Ο ◆40

Untitled (from Fifteen Pairs of Hands)

stamped with the artist's initials, number and date "B.N. 1996 I 2/2" lower right
white bronze, on artist's base
54 1/2 x 12 x 12 in. (138.4 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm)
Executed in 1996, this work is number 2 from an edition of 2 plus 1 artist's proof.

The artist's proof is housed in the permanent collection of the Glenstone Museum, Potomac.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $983,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021