AMERICAN, b. 1941
Nauman’s work is characterized by an interest in language, often manifesting itself as visual puns. He has an interest in setting the metaphoric and descriptive functions of language against each other. For example, the neon Run From Fear – Fun From Rear, or the photograph Bound To Fail, which literalizes the title phrase and shows the artist’s arms tied behind his back. He seems to be fascinated by the nature of communication and language’s inherent problems, as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols. Nauman’s use of neon as a medium recurs in his works over the decades. He uses neon to make allusions to the numinous connotations of light, similar to Mario Merz, who used neon to bring new life to assemblages of mundane objects. Neon also connotes the public atmosphere by the means of advertising, and in his later works he uses it ironically with private, erotic imagery as seen in his Hanged Man (1985).
Since the mid-1980s, primarily working with sculpture and video, Nauman developed disturbing psychological and physical themes incorporating images of animal and human body parts, depicting sadistic allusions to games and torture together with themes of surveillance. In 1988, after a hiatus of nearly two decades focused on time-based media, he resumed his work with cast objects.