Recent Acquisition | Bruce Nauman’s “Earth-World”

Susan Sheehan Gallery
Sep 13, 2019 5:59PM

Earth-World, 1985, lithograph, 30 1/4 x 44 3/4 inches, edition of 25, signed and numbered in pencil, lower margin

Bruce Nauman is widely acknowledged as a central figure in contemporary art, his work defying categorization. For more than fifty years, he has explored how fluctuating experiences of time, space, sound, and language provide a foundation for understanding our place in the world. Using an array of media including video, neon, sculpture, and printmaking, Nauman’s extensive and shifting practice challenges viewers to question their perceptions.

In the early 1960s Nauman began training as a printmaker in the art department at the University of Wisconsin. By the early 1970s he had returned to the medium with lasting dedication, collaborating with master printers to explore a staggering range of techniques. Through collaborations at workshops including Gemini G.E.L. and Cirrus Editions, he has made sleek typeset screenprints, deftly incised drypoints, and boldly worked lithographs.

Nauman first encountered the mid-century philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in college, and language games have invigorated his practice ever since. “I try to work at the functional edges of language, when what is known rubs up against nongrammar.” Puns, palindromes, and other lexical inversions dominate his prints, which treat words as both graphic objects and carriers of unstable meaning.

Nauman has maintained that prints appealed because “there is a directness to making marks, yet the technique can be a buffer between me and the image. I like that, too.” His finished works often relate to the process of their making, with particular attention to the reversals inherent in lithography. As in the 1985 lithograph Earth-World, the letters for “WORLD” appear backwards and inverted over the partially obscured word “EARTH”, its message somewhat disguised in this turnabout.

Nauman’s word-images such as Earth-World present the viewer with an awareness seldom realized in the habitual use of language. When the viewer is forced to read this obscured image projected in reverse and upside down, it becomes an anomaly. “I like how the front-back interplay confuses the information. It produces tensions, and communication in general interests me.” As a part of his wider practice, the printmaking word-images persistently test the limits of our perception, creating distinctive experiences within the linguistic world.

Susan Sheehan Gallery