Bruce Nauman was born December 6, 1941, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He studied art, mathematics, and physics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1960 to 1964. He went on to study under William T. Wiley and Robert Arneson at the University of California at Davis, graduating with an M.F.A. in 1966. In 1964, Nauman gave up painting and began experimenting with sculpture and Performance art and collaborated with William Allan and Robert Nelson on film projects. He supported himself teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1966 to 1968, and again at the University of California at Irvine, in 1970.
Since the mid-1960s, the artist has created an open-ended body of work that includes sculptures, films, holograms, interactive environments, neon wall reliefs, photographs, prints, sculptures, videotapes, and performance. His Conceptual work stresses meaning over aesthetics; it often uses irony and wordplay to raise issues about existence and alienation, and increasingly it provokes the viewer’s participation and dismay.
In 1966, the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, held Nauman’s first solo exhibition. In 1968, the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and the Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, initiated a long series of solo shows. Also in 1968, he was invited for the first time to participate in Documenta in Kassel, and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that enabled him to work in New York for one year. In 1972, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, organized the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work, which traveled in Europe and the United States. Nauman moved to New Mexico in 1979. A major retrospective was held at the Rijksmuseum Króller-Müller, Otterlo, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, in 1981. Since the mid-1980s, primarily working with sculpture and video, he has developed disturbing psychological and physical themes with imagery based on animal and human body parts.
Nauman has received many honors, including an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1989, the Max Beckmann Prize in 1990, the Wolf Prize in Arts-Sculpture in 1993, and the Wexner Prize in 1994. The most recent Nauman retrospective was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and traveled to many venues throughout America and Europe from 1993 to 1995. Nauman lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.