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Nauman, U.S. Representative at Venice Biennale, Presented at Three Venues
Bruce Nauman with U.S. Commissioner Carlos Basualdo at the U.S. Pavilion, Venice, Italy in June, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art © Michele Lamanna 2008.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, the official United States representation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, will explore thematically the work of one of the most influential living American artists. Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition will underscore recurrent themes in Nauman’s extraordinary 40-year career with works shown across three prominent locations in Venice: the U.S. Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale; Università Iuav di Venezia at Tolentini; and the Exhibition Spaces at Università Ca’ Foscari.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State (ECA) led the selection process for the artist who will represent the U.S. at the Biennale. Following a recommendation by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, ECA selected Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens. The International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, established in 1895, is one of the most prestigious international events in the field of contemporary art.

The exhibition will offer a thematic view of the work that Nauman has produced over the past four decades, including video, installation, performance, sculpture, and neon. The presentation will also include seminal works by Nauman, a number of which have seldom, if ever, been seen in Europe, and will premiere a new sound installation by the artist. The exhibition is structured around the notion of topology—a field in mathematics that examines the continuity of space amid changing conditions—which is used to understand the artist’s work as well as the context in which it will be displayed. Nauman has used the concept of topology many times to describe the themes and methods of his practice. By focusing on topology as a key to consider his work and the urban structure of Venice, the exhibition will enable visitors to experience one in relation to the other while productively interrogating the idea of the “national pavilion.”

By extending the presentation beyond the U.S. Pavilion, which traditionally hosts the Biennale’s U.S. representation, the exhibition will resonate with Nauman’s investigations into the nature and the boundaries of public and private spaces. This extension also ensures that a more diverse audience, mainly students and younger people who might not visit the Biennale, will experience first-hand, the work of one of the most accomplished living American artists. Making U.S. culture more accessible to a broader international public is a major objective of American public diplomacy.

“Our intention from the beginning was to explore the vast and varied terrain of Nauman’s oeuvre, and to examine it in the Venetian context, using the notion of the ‘national pavilion’ as a point of departure. We developed partnerships with other institutions, such as the universities, so that the presentation could interlace Nauman’s work with the urban structure of the city,” said U.S. Commissioner Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Museum pursued its partnerships with the Università Iuav di Venezia and Università Ca’ Foscari, two of Venice’s premier academic institutions, in part to enable thousands of Venetian students to engage fully with Nauman’s work, while at the same time encouraging Biennale visitors to explore the urban fabric of Venice beyond the Giardini. At the Università Iuav di Venezia, Nauman’s works will be installed in the school’s main building, located in the cloisters of the former Tolentini convent near Piazzale Roma. The exhibition will also occupy the exhibition spaces of Ca’ Foscari, two floors of a 15th-century gothic palace, prominently situated on the Grand Canal. In the Giardini, Nauman’s works across various mediums will fill the neoclassical building of the U.S. Pavilion, emphasizing its architectural volume and features

“Bruce Nauman has fundamentally altered our conception of artistic practice and identity. We are excited to have this opportunity, as the Biennale provides the perfect venue in which to explore and contextualize his radical ideas within the history of Modern and Contemporary art,” said U.S. Commissioner Michael R. Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Rector Carlo Magnani of the Università Iuav di Venezia commented that the exhibition “is an important event both to redefine the relations between the Biennale and the city in a significant and innovative way and to bring contemporary art to places of study where it will be primarily in direct contact with a younger generation of students. For a university like the Università Iuav di Venezia that is fully devoted to project-based learning in all of its iterations, Nauman’s constant experimentation with expressive forms that profoundly reconfigure the viewer’s perception of space represents an exceptional educational opportunity. The beneficial and productive collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art is another proven example of the capability of the Venetian institutions to restore to Venice a significant role in the debate, education and production of contemporary art.”

Pier Francesco Ghetti, the Rector of the Università Ca’ Foscari, remarked that the exhibition is “an initiative of international relevance, which will involve professors, doctoral candidates, and graduate students of our houses of study; and it will reaffirm the synergies in contemporary art among the Università Ca’ Foscari, the Università Iuav di Venezia, and other important Venetian institutions. The Ca’ Foscari not only is a spacious and prestigious location in the heart of the Grand Canal, but it is also an educational laboratory in which artists can experiment with new forms and ideas and where our students can be involved in the artistic culture of our time.”

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941, Fort Wayne, Indiana) is regarded as one of the most innovative artists of his generation and is often cited as a catalyst for the recent shift in much international artistic practice toward conceptual and performative uses of language and the body. In work encompassing video, installation, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and neon, Nauman continually engages mundane situations and interpersonal communication, only to subvert them through paradoxical visual and linguistic manipulation.

Nauman studied mathematics, physics, and studio art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and then pursued an MFA at the University of California, Davis. There, artists on staff such as Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley supported his experimental attitude toward art making. In 1966, Nauman had his first solo show at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles and was also included in Lucy R. Lippard’s Eccentric Abstraction group exhibition at the Fischbach Gallery in New York. Nauman’s solo debut in New York at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968 was soon followed by a one-man exhibition at Konrad Fischer’s gallery in Düsseldorf. In 1973, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art co-organized the first museum survey, Bruce Nauman: Works from 1965–1972, an exhibition that also traveled in Europe. Since 1975, Nauman has been represented in New York by Sperone Westwater.

Nauman’s work can be found in prominent museum collections throughout the world, and he has been the subject of many notable solo exhibitions, including: Bruce Nauman, 1972–1981 held in the Netherlands and in West Germany in 1981; Bruce Nauman, a survey organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, that traveled in 1993–95 to Madrid, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York; and, in 2006–07, A Rose Has No Teeth, an exhibition of his early work organized by the University of California Berkeley Art Museum that toured to Turin, Italy, and Houston, Texas. Nauman has garnered multiple awards throughout his career, including the Wexner Prize in 1994, the Leone d’Oro (The Golden Lion) along with Louise Bourgeois at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, and the Praemium Imperiale for Visual Arts in 2004 in Japan. He holds honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, the noted American painter Susan Rothenberg.

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