Bruce Nauman at Tate Modern is vulgar, violent and totally absurd, just like real life
Time Out says
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Obscene, violent, vulgar, intense and somehow totally mundane: American artist Bruce Nauman’s art is a horrifying exploration of life’s absurdity.
Since the 1960s, he’s been doing simple, repetitive, ridiculous things. In early video works here in this major Tate show he bounces against a wall over and over, he walks exaggeratedly down a narrow corridor, he pokes himself in the throat, walks along a line. Boring, repetitive shit; the stuff you do when you’ve been stuck inside for far too long.
In later videos, he films clowns screaming and being abused, or a female mime being ordered to perform by a disembodied male voice. There’s a sculpture of a giant cage with a smaller cage within it, there are CCTV cameras, voices screaming into the space. This is claustrophobic, intense art about authoritarianism and dominance, about the constant violence of the everyday.
But it’s not all grim, it’s funny too. The gallery is dotted with punny neon sculptures that say things like ‘run from fear, fun from rear’. Nauman just constantly plays and toys and manipulates.
It’s direct, obvious, approachable art, so it’s a shame the wall texts take it all so glumly seriously. Because despite the awkward, uncomfortable, terrifying feeling of Nauman’s art, there’s something quite reassuring about it all. It’s so easy to feel like 2020, with its isolation and boredom and creeping authoritarianism, is an outlier. But Nauman’s art is saying don’t worry, life has always been this absurd, and it always will be.
Get a timed ticket here.