BRUCE NAUMAN (b. 1941)
BRUCE NAUMAN (b. 1941)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
BRUCE NAUMAN (b. 1941)

None Sing Neon Sign

BRUCE NAUMAN (b. 1941)
None Sing Neon Sign
ruby-red and cool white neon tubing
13 x 24 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 61.6 x 3.8 cm.)
Executed in 1970. This work is number three from an edition of six.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Galleria Sperone, Turin.
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich.
Private collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above, 1977).
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 17 May 2000, lot 53.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Bruce Nauman: 1/12-Scale Models for Underground Pieces, exh. cat., Albuquerque Museum, 1981 (illustrated).
C. Knight, Art of the Sixties and Seventies: The Panza Collection, New York, 1988, p. 185 (illustrated).
C. van Bruggen, Bruce Nauman, New York, 1988 (illustrated in color, p. 153).
N. Benezra, et. al, Bruce Nauman: Catalogue Raisonné, Minneapolis, 1995 (illustrated, p. 247, no. 184).
Neon Stücke, exh. cat., Hannover, Sprengel Museum, 1998, p. 48.
CAPC, Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, The 1970s: Art in Question, October 2002-January 2003, p. 402 (another example exhibited).
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, Bruce Nauman: Neons, Sculptures, Drawings, October-December 2002, p. 17 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color, p. 31; in situ view illustrated in color, p. 16).
J. Gibbons, Art and Advertising, New York, 2005, p. 17.
Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, Venice, 53rd International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia, 2009. p. 57 (another example exhibited and in situ view illustrated in color, p. 33).
P. Plagens, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, London, 2014, p 142 (another example illustrated in color, p. 143, fig. 145).
Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2018, p. 162 and 306-307 (another example illustrated in color).
Princeton University Art Museum, American Art since 1960, 1970, no. 29 (illustrated).
Baltimore Museum of Art, Bruce Nauman: Neons, 1982-83, p. 61, no. 10 (illustrated).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofiá, Arte minimal de la Collection Panza, 1988.
Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum; Paris, Musee National d'Art Modern, Centre Georges Pompidou; London, Hayward Gallery; Helsinki, The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Bruce Nauman, 1997-99, p. 44 (illustrated).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

An artist known for his decades-long pursuit of a challenging and thought-provoking body of work, Bruce Nauman remains one of the greatest living artists working today. The present work, None Sing Neon Sign, is one of Nauman’s earliest neon sculptures, having been created in 1970. Emanating from the wall with a subtle, neon glow, None Sing Neon Sign alternates between two lines of cursive text. Along with Raw/War (1970; Baltimore Museum of Art) and Run from Fear/Fun from Rear (1972; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), None Sign Neon Sign is one of the very first neon signs to utilize puns, and offers up a delectable play on words. Other examples in the small edition of six are now located in major American museums and esteemed private collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York.

None Sing Neon Sign is a quintessential Bruce Nauman “non”-art object. Inspired by the neon beer signs of his San Francisco neighborhood, the work gives off a vaguely lascivious buzz. It depicts two lines of text that have been executed in neon tubing in two colors—ruby red and fluorescent white. In this case, None Sing Neon Signis an anagram, in which the letters in “none sing” have been rearranged to formneon sign”. Featuring an ironic play on words, the work refers back to its own identity: it is a “neon sign” in which “none” of its components “sing.” In this way, it offers a self-deprecating comment on the artist’s own work with an irreverent twist. Like his seminal neon work of 1967, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967; Philadelphia Museum of Art), the work is tinged with dark humor, but also contains a real earnestness, as the young artist genuinely sought to create new and important work whilst holding himself to a high set of standards.

Inspired by the neon signs of his local bars, Bruce Nauman created his first neon piece, Window or Wall Sign, in 1967. Earlier in his career, he had decided that he would not make work that would simply “add to a collection of things that are art,” as he put it (B. Nauman, quoted in Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, 2006, p. 17). Instead, he would hire fabricators to create the neon works and other light installations of his early career. This was a radical new direction for art of the late 1960s and early ‘70s that would encompass aspects of Minimalism, Conceptual art, Installation art, and the "Light and Space" movement coming out of Southern California. Nauman invented a bracing new body of work that left critics puzzled but intrigued. As the artist himself explained, “From the beginning I was trying to see if I could make art that did that. Art that was just there all at once. Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better yet, like getting hit in the back of the neck. You never see it coming; it just knocks you down. I like that idea very much: the kind of intensity that doesn’t give you any trace of whether you’re going to like it or not” (B. Nauman, quoted in J. Kraynak, ed., Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words: Writings and Interviews, 2003, p. 320).

Indeed, Nauman’s neon signs hold a special place within the artist’s long-running and influential oeuvre. These unusual and witty creations poked fun at the seriousness and austerity of Minimalism, in the preciousness of its materials and its pristine, hard-edged look. The irony, of course, is that now Nauman’s neon sculptures are imbued with the same austerity and seriousness, having now achieved the same cult-like status as the original artworks they once mocked. The curator Joseph D. Ketner II has alluded to this subject, writing in his exhibition catalogue on Nauman’s neon works in 2006, whilst commenting on None Sing Neon Sign in particular. He writes, “Throughout his art Nauman adopts an irreverent attitude to the investigation of the serious issues of art and life by resorting to games, nonsense and inherent contradiction. … None Sing Neon Sign is a play on words appropriate to his neon text pieces over the next four years. With a self-deprecating, contradictory sense of humor, the artist rearranged the letters of his medium, the “neon sign,” to downplay the seriousness of his endeavor. He is being disingenuous when he puns that “none sing” in these neon signs. On the contrary, such pieces…sing like a chorus, offering provocative commentary on the human condition” (J. Ketner II, Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, 2006 p. 16; 25).

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