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Bruce Nauman (B. 1941)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
Bruce Nauman (B. 1941)

Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective

Bruce Nauman (B. 1941)
Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective
plaster, burlap, wood
17 3/4 x 119 x 119 in. (45.1 x 302.3 x 302.3 cm.)
Executed in 1981.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987
R. Smith, "Review/Art: 'Sculpture,' The Works of Five Women," The New York Times, 02 October 1987.
Amerikanische Zeichnungen und Graphik: von Sol LeWitt bis Bruce Nauman: aus den Besta¨nden der Graphischen Sammlung des Kunsthauses Zu¨rich, exh. cat., Kunsthauses Zu¨rich, 1994, pp. 95-96 (installation view illustrated).
N. Benezra, et. al., Bruce Nauman: exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonné, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1994, p. 281, no. 292 (illustrated).
R. C. Morgan, Bruce Nauman, Baltimore, 2002, p. 82.
Chicago, Young Hoffman Gallery, Bruce Nauman: New Iron Casting, Plaster, and Drawings, May-June 1981.
New York, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Imi Knoebel, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, September-October 1987.
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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

“Quite a long time ago there were some shafts that went down into the ground, with stairs to enter and a curve or something, and you couldn’t see out of the top. A lot of them are just tunnels underground. Some of them had surface pits or trenches and shafts that went down. ...as models they function as large sculptures or objects in a given space anyway, and one of the things that’s of interest to me in the whole project...is how they need to function as sculptures without the other information of knowing that they’re models for tunnels.” Bruce Nauman

Created in 1981, Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective is an important example of Bruce Nauman’s models for the underground tunnels he developed between 1977 and 1981. Others in the series such as Smoke Rings (Model for Underground Tunnels), 1979, in the Centre Pompidou, and Untitled (Model for Trench, Shaft, and Tunnel), 1978, in the Reina Sofia, display a similar austerity and elegance in their ring-shaped form, which evokes the formal rigors of Minimalism while retaining the expressive, gestural warmth of the artist’s hand. The dual nature of the piece—as both an independent, freestanding sculpture and as a model for a larger project—demonstrates Nauman’s continued interest in the ambitious, large-scale installations that have come to personify his work.

In Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective, the circular form that Nauman creates—half tunnel, half trench—measures nearly ten feet in diameter, composed of two halves of a circle that rest upon wooden plinths. One half retains a deep v-shaped trench, while the other is turned upside-down, with the trench now forming a tunnel. The simplicity of its circular form, its position upon the floor and the directness of its humble materials evoke the restrained aesthetics of Minimalism, and yet Nauman deliberately veers away from that genre, heading instead into uncharted waters. He allows the imperfect vestiges of the casting process to penetrate the plaster form, retaining its raw, uneven surface, and incorporates the wooden plinths as integral to the work’s character. Indeed, the gritty imperfections of the plaster surface, with its rough texture and embedded burlap scraps, begs to be touched, in a way that directly contradicts the coldness of Minimalism’s pristine surfaces. What’s more, the two halves of Nauman’s circle never quite meet up, so that upon walking the trench, one would reach a dead end without completing its arc. So, too, does the viewer notice that the disconnected pieces do not form a perfect circle. Indeed, Nauman’s impossible tunnels have a crucial anomaly: there is no entrance or exit.

In 1979, Bruce Nauman moved to Pecos, New Mexico, where he built a new studio space and embarked upon a series of ever larger, more complex installations, many of which were suspended from the ceiling with wires and made use of rough materials and ready-made objects. The tunnel projects are among the first objects Nauman created in this new studio and they emerged as a natural extension of the Corridor pieces that he created during the 1970s. In Green Light Corridor, for example, a narrow passageway of colored light appears to extend indefinitely into the receding space. Drawn to its peculiar green light, the viewer enters the piece but the slim space Nauman creates is too tight for the viewer’s body, resulting in a closed-off feeling of claustrophobia. Likewise, in the tunnel projects, Nauman imagined an endless hallway of curving, twisting forms that would be buried underground, though some were conceived to float in the sky. He was particularly drawn to the physical experience of walking a tunnel and the sense of disorientation that occurs when rounding the corner into an unknown area. In a circular tunnel, one would continually follow its curving form, never sure as to what lurked just around the bend. He explained: “because it’s a circle and you walk around a circle, you never will really see very far behind you—you are unable to even get outside the piece...” (B. Nauman, quoted in M. de Angelus, “Interview with Bruce Nauman,” 1980, J. Kraynak, ed., Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words, Cambridge, 2003, p. 280).

Circular forms are found repeatedly throughout Nauman’s oeuvre, which is perhaps not surprising given his early training in mathematics. One might recall the looping quality of Nauman’s video projections, or even the tendency of his neon words and phrases to circle around themselves until they lose meaning altogether. The circular format of the large, hanging-mobile installations of this era, such as South American Circle, 1981, and Carousel, 1988, are of particular power and resonance. In Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective, the viewer is compelled to circle round its orbital format, making active participation a thrilling component to the piece. Childhood games like “ring-around-the-rosie” and “musical chairs” inevitably come to mind (along with more sinister allusions, like buzzards circling their prey or boxers in the ring).

Upon seeing Nauman’s work at the Halle für Neue Kunst in Schaffhausen, Switzerland in the 1980s, the curator Richard Flood remarked: “Here was the spine of American art. I got kicked in the stomach. The way you are asked to physicalize yourself in relation to the work really knocked me out.” He included Skewed Tunnel and Trench in False Perspective in the exhibition he curated at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York in 1987. Flood described the sensation: “I didn’t understand these pieces at first. But a few years later, it looked as if it had been unearthed and was waiting for time to catch up with it. It was a rude, crude, jerry-built thing that suggested a sort of American, wagons-west, let’s get-it-done feeling” (R. Flood, quoted in B. Adams, “The Nauman Phenomenon,” R. C. Morgan, ed., Bruce Nauman: Art and Performance, Baltimore & London, 2002, p. 82).

As Paul Schimmel has described, Nauman’s works don’t simply invite the viewer’s participation, they demand it. He explains: “Bruce Nauman’s relationship to the viewer has never been ambivalent. He not only makes art for us but also tells us how to see it. …Throughout Nauman’s career he has baited, controlled, bored, infuriated, scared, insulted, angered, imperiled, experimented with, and manipulated us--his viewers--into experiencing his work within his parameters. He establishes a uniquely instructional relationship with his audience. The meaning of the piece is what it does to us” (P. Schimmel, “Pay Attention,” Bruce Nauman: Exhibition Catalogue and Catalogue Raisonne, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1994, p. 69).

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