Bruce Nauman - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Germany
    Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, May 28, 1999, lot 337
    Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

  • Exhibited

    Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst; Kunsthalle Tübingen; Kunstmuseum Bonn; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Kunstraum München; Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe; Kunsthalle Hamburg; New York, The New Museum of Contemporary Art; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Berkeley, University Art Museum, Bruce Nauman Drawings 1965-1986, May 17, 1986 - July 10, 1988, no. 71, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I work in that way a lot, where there are drawings, and then the work, and then more drawings to figure out what I’ve done..." Bruce Nauman

    Used to both reconcile and construct his sculptural, performative and installation pieces, Bruce Nauman’s drawings offer a unique look at the evolution of his creative process, one which continues today. As Robert Storr espoused on the occasion of an exhibition of Nauman’s work in 2002, “one should linger over the drawings. Patient concentration will be rewarded with the realization that Nauman, constant experimenter and eager pioneer of new media, is also a master of the most fundamental means of representation” (Robert Storr, Bruce Nauman: Neons, Sculptures and Drawings, exh. cat., Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York, 2002, p. 16). The following two drawings by Bruce Nauman, executed between 1966 and 1970, illuminate the artist’s ongoing exploration of the formal and conceptual qualities of art, certainly deserving of close inspection.

    In 1965, as a graduate student at University of California, Davis, Nauman and his teacher William Wiley came across the “Slant Step”, a seemingly ordinary step stool covered with black rubber and green linoleum. Wiley found the object nearby at the Mount Carmel Salvage Shop in Mill Valley and was perplexed by its lack of functionality—should one step on the surface tilted at a 45-degree angle, one would be sure to slip. Together with Wiley, Nauman studied the peculiar object, which in turn influenced a series of drawings and a plaster sculpture dedicated to the mysterious "Slant Step". His 1966 sculpture titled Mold for a Modernized Slant Step was a central work in an exhibition titled The Slant Step Show, which took place the same year at the Berkeley Gallery in San Francisco, organized by poet and playwright William Witherup. Nauman’s sculpture, intended as a model cast for an edition, but instead left alone as a finished piece, is now housed in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, while the original green rubber and linoleum "Slant Step" was donated to UC Davis’s permanent art collection in 2012.

    The drawing Modern (Production) Slant Stool, executed in the same year as Nauman’s plaster Mold for a Modernized Slant Step, explores the peculiar object’s form. Notations around the work offer an intimate look at Nauman’s reflections on its structure in his attempts to reconstruct the three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. The artist’s hand is evident in the ghostly, erased graphite lines beneath the outer contour of the stool, and also in the annotations surrounding the sketch, with crossed-out inscriptions and descriptive arrows. The early part of the artist’s career to which this drawing belongs marked a pivotal point in Nauman’s development as a conceptual artist. After giving up painting in the early 1960s, his studies at UC Davis transformed his work from figurative abstraction to a multi-disciplinary approach to post-modern sculpture and installation, and Nauman’s earliest drawings, like the present work, offer the most intimate look at the artist’s evolving practice.

    Indeed, Nauman has relied on the medium of drawing throughout his entire career, providing the foundation for his most complex works. He often goes back and forth between preparatory diagrams to finished blueprint-like drawings. As he has stated, “Yes, I work in that way a lot, where there are drawings, and then the work, and then more drawings to figure out what I’ve done, to help me resolve what I’m in as opposed to what I thought I was doing when I got started” (Bruce Nauman, quoted in “Ingrid Schaffner, Circling Oblivion/Bruce Nauman through Samuel Beckett”, Bruce Nauman, Baltimore, 2002, p. 164). This process is evident too in RAW/WAR, 1968-1970, one of just a few drawings related to Nauman’s 1970 neon work Raw War, housed in the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, wherein the words “RAW” and “WAR” are flashed alternately. Atop and beneath the drawing of six neon letters, Nauman has annotated “ruby red” and “pale purple”, describing the colors used in the neon tubing. Likely made before the realization of the installed neon, this drawing, once again, provides us with an in-depth look into Nauman’s creative process. Related works on paper done after the neon illuminate his ongoing fascination with the palindromic phrase “RAW WAR”, including a 1971 lithograph housed in the permanent collection of the Tate, London.

    RAW/WAR occupies a time in Nauman’s career when he became preoccupied with not only the formal effects of lettering and language, but also its conceptual implications. He said, “I am really interested in the different ways that language functions. That is something I think a lot about, which also raises questions about how the brain and the mind work…the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs” (Bruce Nauman, quoted in Christopher Cordes, Bruce Nauman: Prints 1970-89, New York, 1989, p. 25). Executed during the height of America’s involvement with the Vietnam War, this work elicits an emotional reaction in viewers when taken out of the context of Nauman’s artistic output. The adjective “raw” helps describe the violent acts committed in the political climate of the late 20th century, referring to a physical and emotional rawness as a collective reaction to war, one that is ever more poignant in today’s day and age. As such, Nauman uses his multi-disciplinary approach to art as a tool to connect with his viewers through seemingly simple aesthetics and materials.

    Masterpieces in their own right, these two works highlight the importance of drawing in Nauman’s oeuvre. As the artist declared of all of his work, “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art” (Bruce Nauman, quoted in Ian Wallace and Russell Keziere, “Bruce Nauman Interviewed,” Vanguard (Canada) 8, no. 1, February 1979, p. 18).

Property from the Estate of Howard Karshan



signed, inscribed and dated "study for a neon sign - 1968/70 Bruce Nauman" lower center
graphite, ink and colored pencil on paper
23 x 16 in. (58.4 x 40.6 cm.)
Executed in 1968-1970.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $81,250

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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018