Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture

An Art Institute of Chicago exhibit I had to sample, if only for about half a minute: Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture. I’ll quote from the museum’s page for the installation:

Installed in an enclosed, darkened space, Clown Torture consists of two rectangular pedestals, each supporting two pairs of stacked color monitors (one turned upside down, one turned on its side); two large, color-video projections on facing walls; and sound from all six video displays. . . . In “No, No, No, No (Walter),” the clown incessantly screams “No!” while jumping, kicking, or lying down; in “Clown with Goldfish,” he struggles to balance a fish bowl on the ceiling with the handle of a broom; in “Clown with Water Bucket,” he repeatedly opens a door that is booby-trapped with a bucket of water, which falls on his head; and finally, in “Pete and Repeat,” he succumbs to the terror of a seemingly inescapable nursery rhyme: “Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence. Pete falls off. Who’s left? Repeat.” Of his work, Nauman has said, “From the beginning I was trying to see if I could make art that . . . was just there all at once. Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the head. You never see it coming; it just knocks you down. . . . The kind of intensity that doesn’t give you any trace of whether you’re going to like it or not.” Clown Torture functions in very much this way: as an assault on viewers’ aural and visual perception.
As I said: about half a minute. Such art doesn’t interest me — or interest me enough to want to get interested. What interests me more is that the Art Institute has no qualms about requiring one of its guards to stand watch over Clown Torture, listening to tape loops of screams, crashes, and nursery rhymes. That seems to me like torture itself. I don't think any museum employee should be subjected to the noise of this installation, for any length of time. And yes, I’ve told the Art Institute that.

[The first ellipsis in the quoted material is mine.]

comments: 2

Jennifer Morris said...

Great review. My family and I were at the Art Institute today and hopped on the elevator. An employee got on and said "You HAVE to see the clown torture exhibit- it's hilarious!!!" (My kids are 8 and 10). We thought, "Gee, it must be something cool for an employee to recommend " We went by and walked in the room. Thank god we heard it before we all saw it and was able to pull kids behind wall. Of course the 8 year old saw the clown on toilet and both heard the "No no no" screams. That was enough. Long story short I'm typing this at 12:30 in the morning because the 8 year old can't sleep because of clown. I explained that artists try to evoke emotions....different mediums of art... But really???? I don't get it and I sure as hell can't expect him too! Bizarre. Taking up museum space. And an employee enthuastically recommending we take KIDS in there? Uh... No. Too much for our family visitng from Jacksonville, Florida. ;). I need to go because I have explain the Raping of the Sabine Women painting.... ;) ;) ;).

Michael Leddy said...

Jennifer, thanks for your account. I think that the enthusiastic employee would be perfect for guard duty in the exhibit.

I’ve written to the AIC, and I know that someone from the museum has seen this post. But I’ve had no reply.