Bruce Nauman (b. 1941)

Do It Right

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941)
Do It Right
orange, green, red, blue, pink and yellow neon tubing with clear glass tubing suspension frame
23½ x 42½ x 2¼ in. (59.7 x 108 x 5.7 cm.)
Executed in 1982. This work is unique.
Dan and Deborah Welch, Sausalito
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner on 5 December 1986
A. Bodet, "Neon: De l'electricité dans l'art," Beaux Arts Magazine, December 1983, no. 8, p. 55.
Bruce Nauman, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1986, pp. 17-18 (illustrated).
K. Halbreich and N. Benezra, ed., Bruce Nauman: Exhibition Catalogue and Catalogue Raisonné, Minneapolis and New York, 1994, p. 283, no. 298 (illustrated in color).
Baltimore Museum of Art, Bruce Nauman: Neons, December 1982-February 1983, p. 97, no. 26 (illlustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Bruce Nauman's work with neon is acknowledged to be one of his most important and influential forms of expression, particularly when used in conjunction with his interest in semiotics. Created in 1982, Do It Right is Nauman's first neon work to have employed figurative elements and it is his only rebus. It consists of two phrases, a command and a retort, that has been manipulated into a cryptogram in which visual and verbal means of communication coexist, creating a sense of friction. By replacing the letter "I" and the word "knows" with symbolic equivalents that in turn create the image of a face, Nauman playfully subverts a simple dialogue structure to convey the strange and arbitrary nature of words and the interrelationships that exist between them.

Nauman's fascination with semiotics and wordplay began in his student days of the early 1960s and was heightened by his readings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Turning to Wittgenstein's 1953 Philosophical Investigations, Nauman adopted the philosopher's model of investigating the limits of human language and thought through a close examination of the actual workings of everyday parlance. In Wittgenstein's view, language should be understood as a system of signs and not just as a verbal construct. It is this concept that Nauman addresses in the apparently naïve, illustrative reduction of Do It Right. Nauman has indicated that this coupling of phrases relates to a private joke, from which the viewer has been excluded, thereby highlighting the fact that language and the cognition of meaning is entirely dependant on its social context. Much of Nauman's work features a playful and mischievous exploration of the structure and content of language. Breaking this collection of words into pieces and reassembling them in jarring new ways force the viewer to confront them anew. This process emphasizes the very serious concerns that lie at the heart of Nauman's art, which is founded not only on his fascination with language's potential and its fallibility, but also in the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols.

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