Review of Bruce Nauman, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

Review of Bruce Nauman, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

Given The Harris’s Grade I listed neo-classical exterior, many people often simply associate the gallery with Victorian paintings and historical collections, and although this assumption isn’t entirely wrong, The Harris is rapidly building a reputation for its strong and innovative contemporary arts programme. As part of this programme and in collaboration with ARTIST ROOMS On Tour, The Harris Museum & Art Gallery is thrilled to be hosting a carefully curated snippet of works by influential American artist, Bruce Nauman.

A significant collection of works by important international contemporary artists, ARTIST ROOMS was acquired as a national resource by Tate and The National Galleries of Scotland in 2008 through the generosity of Anthony d’Offay. Through ARTIST ROOMS On Tour this important collection is loaned to UK galleries on request in the form of small pre-packed solo exhibition which are, in collaboration with the host institution, individually curated to each venue.

Drawing from Nauman’s practice during the 1970s to the 1990s, The Harris’s selection focuses on works which explore body language, word play and repetitive gesture. In a bold opening statement, visitors entering the gallery are faced by a stark wall of MDF board; the back of Nauman’s iconic work Light Changing Corridor With Rooms. Last shown in the UK 25 years ago the construction has been built to Nauman’s original specifications and is simply narrow corridor with two rooms containing light bulbs automatically turned on and off by timers; Nauman’s way of encouraging his audience to reconsider the space around them and their relationship to it.

In another darkened gallery, the neon work Violins Violence Silence (1981-2) beckons the visitor with its pastel hues. Evidence of Nauman’s dry humour and fascination with word play, the work holds you, eyes squinting while you stare into its ominous glow, attempting to decipher its message. In a sort of bitter ironic twist, when you do eventually decipher the words, put together they make very little sense; the work is a sort of neon riddle which leaves the visitor wondering what they didn’t understand.

Possibly the most influential element of Nauman’s practice, having been one of the first artists to use a video camera, is his use of film. Elsewhere in the gallery are several mundane videos of Nauman doing daily tasks, such as washing his hands, which have been set on a continuous loop; their seemingly pointless endless motion almost hypnotic. Interested in exploring art as activity and not just a product Nauman became fascinated with the concept that as an artist, anything he did in his studio was art, including washing his hands.

Another exhibition that reinforces the importance of ARTIST ROOMS as a national resource, The Harris’s exhibition is a perfect capsule of Nauman’s varied practice and his playful relationship with his audience. The only North West gallery to be part of ARTIST ROOMS On Tour during 2014, this must see exhibition will undoubtedly be an inspiration to many local artists, art students and all those who visit.

ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman, until 24 May, The Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Market Square, Preston, PR1 2PP.

Emma Sumner

1. Bruce Nauman VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE 1981-2, courtesy of the Tate.