Bruce Nauman is undeniably one of the most important artists of the latter half of the twentieth century, with a lasting influence on conceptual and performative art practices. From his earliest works in the mid-1960s, he used his own body both as subject and as material in his performances, films, videos, drawings, and sculptures. For instance, in the films Thighing (Blue) (1967) and Pulling Mouth (1969), he massages his thigh and pulls at his mouth with his hands as if moulding clay. Later he even cast parts of his body (From Hand to Mouth, 1967, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden). His face and head frequently recur in his oeuvre, while his hands also came to play an increasingly central role from the mid-1990s on.
Nauman’s 1994 series of etchings in the Museum holding showcases his own hands in pairs or by fours. One of their gestures, the index of the left hand poking the hole formed by the right hand’s thumb and forefinger, is repeated five times in the print Untitled (From Fingers and Holes series) to form a circle. The image was the model for the sculpture Untitled (Hand Circle), produced from a cast of Nauman’s hands.
The deliberate obscenity is confirmed by a neon work of 1985 representing the same gesture, Human Sexual Experience (private collection), whose title is as explicit as the pose of the hands. The interlinking of the hands creates a sense of movement referring to sexual intercourse, though the decision to cast the work in bronze, the noblest of all materials, attenuates its obscenity, even violence. As a technique, casting, like printing, allows for the limitless repetition of a single element, highlighting the circular, inextricable character of the cycle.
Kathy Halbreich (ed.), Bruce Nauman. Disappearing Acts, exh. cat. Münchenstein, Laurenz Stiftung, Schaulager, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2018.
Joan Simon, Bruce Nauman: Fingers and Holes, Los Angeles and New York, Gemini G.E.L., 1994.
Catherine Lepdor, Jörg Zutter et alii., Le miroir vivant: René Magritte, Marcel Broodthaers, Bruce Nauman, Markus Raetz, Les Cahiers du Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, n. 6, Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, 1997.