Building its strength in works by the important American artist Bruce Nauman, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has partnered with the Pinault Collection to acquire two video installation pieces: seven large-scale video projections with sound collectively experienced as Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, and a related work, Walks In Walks Out.
The two installations will be jointly owned by the Art Museum and François Pinault, the billionaire art collector who operates two museums in Venice, Italy, and a third slated to open in Paris in 2018. Nauman is widely considered to be one of the most influential artists of the last half-century.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity. This is a very important piece of Bruce’s,” Art Museum contemporary art curator Carlos Basualdo said of the Contrapposto Studies, which were shown at the museum for several months in 2016. “He worked on it for a very long time. It’s certainly the centerpiece of everything he has been thinking for the last three years.”
Nauman, 75, widely considered an influential pioneer in a number of artistic media, developed a deepening bond with the museum in preparation for the 2009 Venice Biennale, in which the museum filled the U.S. pavilion with dozens of Nauman pieces – works with water, video, sculptural forms — and even installed neon and sound pieces in sites outside of the Biennale.
The exhibition won the prestigious art gathering’s Golden Lion award for best national participation, and one audio sculpture, Days, was quickly purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in partnership with a foundation.
In addition to the two new acquisitions, the Philadelphia museum owns 14 other Nauman works, including the seminal 1967 neon The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign). “The neon is an incredibly influential work, and this new installation is critical as well,” said Basualdo. “The museum now owns a considerable number of his works. It feels like we are well along the path of being able to represent Bruce’s work properly.”
Walks In Walks Out is currently on view at the museum. The Contrapposto Studies are most likely to be seen and heard in Philadelphia at some point again in the large rooms where they were previously installed to accommodate their grand scale. "He basically tailored the installation for our rooms, and I think those are the two rooms where they should be shown until we have new galleries," Basualdo said, referring to the museum's anticipated expansion.
Pinault – founder of the Kering Group, which manages Gucci, Saint-Laurent, Balenciaga, and other luxury brands – is owner of one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary art. Although the Art Museum has made joint acquisitions with other museums before, this is its first with Pinault, Basualdo said.
Nauman is not producing a lot of new work, noted Pinault curator Caroline Bourgeois, calling him "one of the most important artists of the century" in an email conveyed through a spokesman. "He opened so many doors for so many contemporary artists."