Bruce Nauman has been in town this week. The American artist is remounting - listening, tweaking - two works that debuted at the 53d Venice Biennale, which closes Sunday. One of the pieces, Days, was in progress when the U.S. State Dept. chose Nauman and the Philadelphia Museum of Art to represent the U.S. at the Biennale. Then, in response to the honor, Nauman created an Italian-language counterpart, Giorni.
Both Days and Giorni are at the Art Museum through April, and anyone who cares about Nauman or music should hear them. It's helpful to commit to a long period of concentrated listening and thinking when you're in their presence. They reveal messages - and there are many of them - with time. Among other things, both works teach us to listen for poetry in the cacophony of daily life. Perhaps there's a certain Zen to be had in airports and big-box stores after all.
I'll have more about Venice and the two new works in Sunday's paper. My colleague Ed Sozanski gives Days and Giorni proper critical appraisal at a later date. The full show won the Biennale's top prize and accomplished quite a bit for the museum.
Nauman is a shy guy, even if his selective avoidance of the media only whets the appetite for writing about him and getting him to talk. My own experience with this sort of thing is that there's no point, journalistically speaking, in prying answers from an interview subject who doesn't want to be interviewed, and even less point to it on a human-consideration level. This week, when I sat down with Nauman, he clearly was in no mood to give much of himself.
He essentially said Venice was an enjoyable process and that he thought the way the museum installed his work was "really beautiful."
He praised Art Museum curator Carlos Basualdo, with whom he worked closely on selecting the 33 works in the show and who handled many of the logistics in Venice.
"Carlos always knew when it was time for espresso, and he always knew where to find really good gelato. That made the whole thing enjoyable."
Hard to argue with that.
If you didn't make it to Venice and would like to see what it was all about, you might want to get your hands on "Topological Gardens: Installation Views," a crisp and revealing pictorial record by photographer Michele Lamanna of the Nauman show in all three of its Venice venues.