Wednesday, December 1, 2010

World AIDS Day: Bruce Nauman's "Punch and Judy II Birth and Life and Sex and Death" At The Museum Of Modern Art

On exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art is the work of American artist, Bruce Nauman (b 1941) called "Punch and Judy II Birth and Life and Sex and Death" (1985). The artwork is a gouache and pencil drawing on paper, and is juxtaposed with wallpaper imprinted with the word AIDS (designed by a collective called General Idea, and is a riff on Robert Indiana's "Love" motif).


Nauman's work raises questions related to eternal tensions between life and death, love and hatred, verifiable truth and existential doubt. He addresses these issues with great economy in a hybrid contemporary idiom devised to connect, in as many ways as possible, the thoughts of the artist with the experience of the viewer. Nauman seeks to involve people with hard-to-grasp ideas and hard-to-face uncertainties or ambivalences, and he is prepared to use any method to push aside distractions, break down resistance, and make contact. Correspondingly, the unease created by Nauman's all-out and all-fronts assault on his own and other people's mental habits expresses itself in many ways: recoil at the sight of an apparently grim object, confusion at the sight of an inexplicably abstract one, surprise at the intensity of sounds or lights, embarrassed laughter at a crude joke or cartoon. Whatever that discomfort's manifestation, however, its importance is the same. For Nauman, thinking is feeling. Nauman's general outlook is correspondingly pessimistic, although pathos and tragedy frequently assume a comic guise in his art. The comedy can be harsh, as in Punch and Judy II Birth & Life & Sex & Death (1985), a preparatory drawing for a multiphase neon work in which the aforenamed puppet characters appear as a naked couple who engage in oral sex, attack each other with weapons drawn, and commit suicide, all at the same time.

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