markmaking). A limited depth of ield is generated by blurring marginal curlicues, like maggots breaking away from their collective seething around a deliquescing lump of meat.
These peripheral ‘strokes’ evoke yet another source, the most literal: Gerhard Richter’s photorealistic enlargements, from the early 1980s, of his own slashy brushstrokes. These are forensic perusals of photography’s autopsy of the contingencies of expressionistic facture. Brown may aim to launch himself free of his sources, but his work still clearly stems from a particular juncture in British painting, in the mid to late 1980s, when the dominance of the School of London (just prior to the emergence of the yBa generation, in which Brown played a signi icant part) met a burgeoning awareness of what had been going on in Cologne over the past decade and a half. Since then, Brown has sought to reconcile the Lockean empiricism of British art – an abiding preoccupation with primary experience’s categorical claim on truth – with the ironies of continental European post-Pop. Hence his penchant for setting virtuality off brute materialism, as when the gnarly impasto tree of the sculpture Died in the Wool, 2020, is placed next to the painting I have just described, as if we needed the real thing (unsignifying paint) to confront its imagistic alternative in order to ground its lights of fantasy. The sculpture is housed in an immaculate vitrine, its crusts of fatty oil paint re lecting off the glazed inner surfaces – another echo of a clash between the literal and the illusionistic.
Perhaps the point is to use the empirical tradition as a springboard, as if into the twinkly outer space of Brown’s marvellous early paintings a er Chris Foss’s looming starships. Richter, as well as being a remorseless taxonomist, is a strict moralist, as rigorous in gauging his distance from his sources as Auerbach, if with an entirely different take on how to represent them. These days, Brown offers Dionysian excess as leverage with which to de ine himself against this stolid background, for which accuracy is truth’s requisite. The past is not to be testi ied to, but to lose oneself in, as if there were no such thing as true memory, only the wish to remake history in the image of the present’s desires and fears.
Avoiding the straightjacket of cleaving strictly to other paintings has been productive in resisting the natural gravity of Brown’s sensibility, which is conservative. This exhibition includes a series of drawings, their streaming strokes of ink an equivalent of his painterly mimesis of viscous oil paint. The linearity has carried over into painting. Like an etching’s version of a painted original, storms of ine lines comb monochrome grounds, coalescing and coagulating, to overwhelm the images they both create and obscure. Here, in the structure of his painting, its central conundrum is enacted. Peering into these intricate webs, you try to discern an object, an original, a solid referent, which doesn’t exist because the lines themselves are the thing; but a nagging sense that the whole edi ice must be contingent upon a reality lurking beneath, a fact to be uncovered, suggests that Brown is less the lighty sampler whose image he cultivates than a dogged empiricist searching for a kernel of demonstrable truth in the layers of arti ice in which he entangles himself. Mark Prince is an artist and writer based in Berlin.
Bruce Nauman, Falls, Pratfalls and Sleights of Hand (Clean Version), 1993, video
Bruce Nauman Tate Modern, London, 7 October to 21 February Have you ever watched yourself disappear out of sight around a corner? It’s a strange experience. Is that really what my hair looks like in pro ile? Does my neck always protrude forward at that angle? Do my trousers it? The uncanny tangles itself with the commonplace.
Bruce Nauman is an artist who deals exclusively in this kind of negative space. His vision is a helter-skelter humdrum. Going Around the Corner Piece With Live and Taped Monitors, 1970, which uses strategically placed CCTV cameras to create the experience just described, takes the bald fact of modern surveillance, as well as the contemporary obsession with self-image, and exposes its inherent violence and erotics – would most of us pursue or even kill our doppelganger, or, as a lot of people on Reddit seem to think, would we try to seduce it?
In classic Nauman style, this trick is performed with as few tools and as little fuss as possible. Two cameras. Two monitors. One wall. The gap between ‘idea’ and ‘execution’ is as narrow as can be, and huge concepts are communicated through the simplest means.
Perhaps the most immediate question raised by Tate’s enormous new retrospective of Nauman’s work is, ‘Why now?’ Or, more pertinently, ‘Why again?’ An exhibition was hosted by Tate Liverpool in 2006, relatively recent in terms of the ‘large solo retrospective’ lifecycle. Nauman’s famous 2004 Turbine Hall installation, the audio piece Raw Materials, returned to Tate Modern in 2017 as part of its ‘Artists Rooms’ series. It is back again here, on the fringe of the exhibition, played out of speakers running down the staircase of Tate’s main building (and therefore only available to visitors without access requirements, a strange and disappointing refusal by Tate to learn any lessons from last year’s justi ied complaints about the Olafur Eliasson show – Artnotes AM429). So, why the continued Tate–Nauman love-in? And why Nauman now?
This is an artist who invites revisiting, evasive and fun as he is. Returning to Nauman in 2020, though, his work rings truer than ever, as we watch the western sociopolitical wave destructively crashing back upon itself. The early sculpture, Cast of the Space Under My Chair, 1965, a concrete cube with indentations from the chair under which it was cast, is a deceptively simple reminder of those spaces we forget or overlook at our peril. It just sits there, unnerving in its starkness. Above this grey block hangs the pink-and-yellow neon piece Run from Fear, Fun from Rear, 1972, garishly
Art Monthly no. 442, December 2020 – January 2021
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