Susan Mansfield, 'Review' (The Scotsman, 05/05/2009)
The influence of American artist Bruce Nauman is ubiquitous in the generation of artists who followed him: the way he ranges freely across media; the texts in neon; the looped videos; the obsession with the body; the general way in which he seems to aim to say nothing but say it very profoundly.
It is fitting that Nauman’s Artist Room (from the collection of gallerist Anthony d’Offay, now jointly owned by the Tate an the National Galleries of Scotland) was selected to be shown in Glasgow, in the heartland of Scotland’s contemporary art community. But this is not, as the advertising says, “a major solo exhibition” by Nauman in Scotland.
It is a show of six works which representative different strands within his oeuvre, though they are neither the most famous nor the most striking examples. There are two word-play works in neon, and a film of the artist putting up a fence at his ranch in New Mexico. The secret of a good fence, apparently, is setting a good corner. The film aims to transcend the dullness of the activity and take on metaphorical significance. The danger is that it’s simply dull.
There are also two looped videos of the artist washing his hands. Again, they stretch towards metaphor (Pontius Pilate, Lady Macbeth) but end up looking obsessive-compulsive, leaving this viewer discomforted and bored at the same time. It’s not so much finding the poetry in the mundane as beating the audience over the head with the mundane in the belief that it will eventually become profound. The risk is that it might not.
Enforced Perspective is untypical of Nauman. The heavily geometrically cast bronze shapes on the floor look like a flirtation with Richard Serra-style monumental abstracts. But for all their solidity they have a shifting quality: as the patterns change around the room, they play tricks on our perception. However, in this restricted space, the danger is that your main interaction with them might be to trip over them.
In the 1960s, Nauman made casts of parts of his body. He returned to this is the 1990s with works such as Untitled (Hand Circle), which is perhaps the most interesting work here. A suspended circle of endlessly interlinking hands, it reads like a sculptural expression of the looped video, always investigating, never concluding, in which the traditionally hallowed hands of the artist become his own raw material.
There is another suspended sculpture made from cast hands in Annette Ruenzler’s show at Sorcha Dallas. These are the hands of a woman and child, and instead of linking in a calm, continuous circle, these are clamouring and clasping, trying to climb the rope on which they are suspended, fragile yet fierce, trying to reach out, make a connection with the viewer.
Elsewhere in this, her first Scottish show, the German artist displays touches of humour, a pinch of the absurd. There is a confident sprinkling of the surreal in her digital print of a pair of woman’s legs protruding vertically from a pile of carpet. Her two peepholes – which have mirrors inside – play with the viewer. We look for meaning, but see nothing but our own prying eyes.
The black and white forms of orchids look like body parts as much as flowers, spilling letters cut from newspapers. They carry their own opaque messages: “feelings have their reason”; what makes its still so important”. But though this is clever, careful work, it withholds as much as it reveals.
Pavel Buchler, a former head of fine art at the Glasgow School of Art, describes his work as “making nothing happen”. Ironically, the Small Sculptures are small objects which were originally produced as postcards, but are shown here as large format prints. Thus they are small things writ large, mundane objects with claims on greater significance.
Some are simply puns: two pencil stubs, one bearing the brand name Castell, propped on their ends make the shape of a castle. Others grasp big, complex ideas in surprising, succinct ways, making the accompanying texts by the artist barely necessary.
In The Problem of God, a reflective disk keeps the place in an old book while reflecting the word “invisible”. Bengal Rose is an empty tube of paint, torn open to reveal the rich pink colour inside, and holding the shape of a rose. This in a nutshell (or paint tube) is one of the great dilemmas of contemporary art: an object which is the thing itself and a representation of the thing.
In addition to seven prints, Buchler documents in a wall of photographs every cigarette break he has taken in the past 18 months. It is a snapshot of an artist’s life: London, Prague, Shanghai, donuts, text messages, exhibition installations. These are the moments between making art, and he makes them into art in a way which is compelling, while never claiming they are anything other than mundane.