Bruce Nauman at the Biennale

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Not a stranger to the Biennale, Bruce Nauman has landed in the Venetian lagoon once again. Carefully curated by Carlos Basualdo from the Philadephia Museum of art, “Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens” contains some of the artists most famous pieces including Hand to Mouth (1967) and The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967), his signature neon spiral which welcomes the visitor upon entering the pavilion.

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The US pavilion is an elegant but somewhat solemn building: it could easily pass for a bank on a Connecticut high street. But this year the salt-rusted bricks have come alive with Nauman’s neon words of wisdom, a flashing fancy of vices and virtues which wrap around the entirety of the building. Even behind the building, where gravel and shrubs separate the United States and the Uruguayan pavilions, the neon fights its way through the trees.

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Notoriously timid of art events - Nauman avoids most press interviews and leaves others to collect his awards - his contribution to the pavilion this year is unexpectedly boisterous. It is also the first time in the Biennale’s 53-year history that an artist has expanded their exhibition to more than one venue in the city, creating an ongoing and comprehensive experience for the visitor.

Hosted by Venice’s university buildings far from the Giardini, it is here that Nauman’s more disruptive tendencies have been housed. Not somewhere to quietly poke your head in to with a hangover, a mistake this journalist will never repeat, Nauman’s fascination with polyphony is made energetically clear. Particularly with his 1993 piece which consists of two stacked video monitors with the artist’s head bouncing around shouting “Think! Think! Think!” at the viewer.

Nauman himself appears quite a lot in works at the Pavilion, often using and manipulating his own body. His hands have been cast in Fifteen Pairs of Hands, a macabre installation that mirrors the Three Heads Fountain on the opposite side of the pavilion.

Nauman said that he wants to make art that is “like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the neck.” Through his rambunctious neon mottos and raucous installations, Nauman succeeds in both embracing the Biennale’s progressive ideology and letting the visitor know what he’s all about.

The 53rd Venice Biennale "Making Worlds" runs until November 22. For more information visitwww.labiennale.org

Words by Alex Tieghi-Walker