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The Press on Bruce Nauman: Theatres of Experience at the Deutsche Guggenheim

Bruce Nauman: Theatres of Experience at the Deutsche Guggenheim is Bruce Nauman's first major solo show in Berlin. The enthusiastic press sends the public a message of encouragement: no need to fear abstruse art.

"Clear the ring for all varieties of cruel-comic-mechanical anthropomorphism, or, as the show's title insinuates, for performative 'theater forms of experience," exclaims Alexander Kluy in the Frankfurter Rundschau. In Nauman's work everything revolves "around examinations of visual ambush and coercion, around the effects of looking, sensing and shuddering after the sudden onset of understanding". These works appear off-putting only at first glance; "even 20 or 30 years after their inception they startle the viewer with their wit and their seriousness, with distancing emotionality and a technicity that breaks down boundaries," writes the enthusiastic critic.

In the Tagesspiegel Ulrich Clewing considers Nauman's art " quite abstruse in many respects" and wonders how Nauman could become one of the western world's most renowned artists: "The explanation for this astonishing success is soonest found in the videos and neon works (only one of which, however, is presented in Berlin, Mean Clown Welcome from 1985). Here the artist proves himself a true master of effective reduction. With the most economic of means Nauman achieves what probably only Americans can in this form: striking, entertaining, often very funny art that never appears obvious, half-hearted or intellectually impoverished."

Ingeborg Ruthe in the Berliner Zeitung confirms the artist's "incurable" pessimism, which exerts a powerful attraction: "There is no mercy for the clowns and no pity on the viewer. In the endless loop of the video Double No the two jokers jump up and down, doggedly yelling ‘No, no, no!' Until the viewer begins to laugh on the other side of his face, until the grin freezes into a mask as on the faces of the two poor madmen. Even after you manage to tear yourself away from the sight, you are haunted by the afterimages and after-sounds."

In the Berliner Morgenpost Gabriela Walde finds: "We can't trust ourselves, but we can't trust Nauman either – at every step of the way he undermines our (self-)perceptions. Once you stumble through his claustrophobic chipboard Video Corridor, you find yourself somewhere else entirely. Where, we're not telling!"

Michael Diers of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung was put off by the exhibit at first, because "exhibiting doesn't mean setting things up, much less simply setting them down. But that is the impression created by the show's sterile, uninspired atmosphere. The individual installations constantly interfere with each other on a visual or acoustic level." The reviewer was pleased, however, by the performance Untitled from 1969, executed by the dancer Noreen Guzman de Rojas. "Here a body becomes wall, floor and room. Take the time and sit on the steps. Soon one forgets oneself, the noise and the irritation about certain inconsistencies of the show, realizing: and yet it moves."

Anja Seeliger

Translation: Isabel Cole