Updated: Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 10:54 AM
VENICE - The Philadelphia Museum of Art has successfully Naumanized Venice. The U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is overflowing with work of American artist Bruce Nauman. The Biennale doesn't open officially for another few days, but Art Museum curator Carlos Basualdo took me on a tour today, and it's an impressive use of a small space.
One room is filled with an elegant sea of sculptures, Fifteen Pairs of Hands, from 1996. Another contains a disturbing installation from 1988 called Hanging Carousel (George Skins A Fox) in which foam animal figures rotate while a video monitor shows exactly what the title promises.
The Pavilion installation gives Nauman's work an impressive exterior presence. The iconic neon The True Artist Helps the World By Revealing Mystic Truths faces out of the building through a window, emphasizing the medium's roots in advertising. The work, from 1967, was recently acquired by the Art Museum, and was the thin end of the wedge for the museum's involvement with Nauman.
The museum could come out of this show with more works by the artist in its permanent collection. The front the U.S. Pavilion has been transformed.
Neon works line the top edge of the building. You enter its classical facade by walking beneath a large sign whose neon tubing alternately alights between saying "Anger" and "Fortitude." A less passive form of the Patience and Fortitude lions that welcome you to the New York Public Library?
Perhaps most significant for visitors familiar with the building is the opening of a huge window on the right side of the building as you enter. Through this you can see Nauman's heads remade into sprinkling fountains. The Nauman show also includes a substantive presence in two local universities that contain the only two new works - two audio installations. More about those soon.