Eliciting strong emotional, physical, and intellectual responses, Bruce Nauman's art is that of exploration, using himself and his collaborators to investigate his own witty brand of inquiry for which to examine the parameters of art and the role of the artist. Considering the ways in which hyper-realness coupled with a fragmentary sense of incompleteness can deny or abstract the presented sense of self, Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked is a remarkable work that emerges not only as the first stacked head sculpture in the artist's oeuvre, but also the first to present the rich dichotomy between the plugged mouth of the model in the top head, and the insertion of the artist's own cast tongue in the bottom. Continuing the artist's examinations into the nature of identities Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked continues the legacy first explored by Nauman in the 1960s.
At once interested in achieving tactile precision, while simultaneously exploring a kind of imperfection or sense of becoming in his works, Bruce Nauman strikingly employs the use of wax--a highly malleable medium with inherent properties for capturing detail, as well as a material historically exploited in the production of bronze sculptures, yet, until now, rarely utilized in the finished product. Executed in 1990, Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked comprises of two wax casts made from the head of the same model, Andrew Peters. Facing the same direction the heads are stacked on top of each other, white over pink, separated by a red wax disk. And yet, retaining the evidence of the working process as a means to reveal and question the nature of making art, Nauman has allowed the seas, pools and drips produced by the junctures within the casting mold, as well as evidence of the breathing plug, found in the top white head, that allowed his model to respire during the casting process to remain, in turn rendering the face formed by hyper-realistic wax nearly inscrutable.
Cast in the most impressionable of materials, with his own keen sense of wit, Nauman's heads are nevertheless unresponsive and unimpressionable. Concerned with the notion of simultaneously presenting and denying a self, the artist employs these mask-like drones as an abstraction of personality. For Nauman, the act of looking at art is both deeply penetrative and invasive. The artist is expected to bare his soul, yet Nauman is determined not to allow this. Instead, gagging his model with a breathing plug Nauman has already rendered the top head mute. The bottom head, however, mockingly sticks out his tongue at the viewer. Yet, this is not the tongue of the model, Andrew, but rather a cast from the artist himself, Nauman's own tongue applied to the sculpture by hand. In this way, Nauman highlights the flaws and limitations of human communication and of art in particular. The casts are unable to convey anything subjective, either from Nauman or from his collaborator. Indeed, even their closed eyes and severed necks imply that the models are determined both to keep their feelings hidden, and to close themselves off from the world of the viewer. Deftly warding off the viewer's curiosity these uncommunicative faces eloquently tell us nothing at all.
"I think there is a need to present yourself," Nauman expands. "To present yourself through your work is obviously part of being an artist. If you don't want people to see that self, you put on make-up. But artists are always interested in some level of communication. Some artists need lots, some don't. You spend all of this time in the studio and then when you do present the work, there is a kind of self-exposure that is threatening. It's a dangerous situation and I think that what I was doing, and what I am going to do and what most of us probably do, is to use the tension between what you tell and what you don't tell as part of the work. What is given and what is withheld become the work. You could say that if you make a statement it eliminates the options; on the other hand if you're a logician, the opposite immediately becomes a possibility. I try to make work that leaves options, or is open ended in some way" (B. Nauman, interviewed by Joan Simon, in J. Kraynak (ed.), Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words, Cambridge, 2005, p. 326).
Building on a quarter century of investigations into the coining of identities and the double-binds of the expressive facial self, Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked continues on a legacy begun by its creator in the mid--and later--1960s with such iconic works as Self-Portrait as a Fountain and From Hand to Mouth. Scrutinizing the appearance of the head and face in virtually all mediums and materials with which he explored, Nauman's production and imaging of faces became both subject and object with works likes First Hologram Series: Making Faces (A-K). Around 1969 he began to examine this theme in film and videos, including Lip Sync and Pulling Mouth. Even in the 1970s and early 1980s, when Nauman was more interested first in the production of spatial contexts and then in the colored visualizations of text, actor-driven video pieces such as Elke Allowing the Floor to Rise up Over Her, Face Up, insisted on the performative imbrication of the face in the unfolding drama of dimensions. More so, the powerful Clown Torture videos produced after 1987 offer a disturbing culmination of these celluloid and pixilated heads. While the conditions of facial exchange are humorously literalized, and once again doubled, in neon works from the mid-1980s, including Double Slap in the Face and Double Poke in the Eye II. Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked both pluralizes and tones down the genealogy of facial types at the end of this tradition. The heads are real, but replicated, replacing a unitary expressive subject with stacked waxed molds. The piece thus tames and controls the issuance of exaggerated, satirical or humorous facial gestures that precede it.