‘Dream Passage,’ a collaboration between the Hamburger Bahnhof and the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, presents the first major retrospective of the internationally acclaimed artist, Bruce Nauman. With unprecedented detail and academic rigour, the works on display from the Collection’s archive, including examples of Nauman’s ‘experiential architecture,’ are central in defining the prominent position of this psychologically challenging, evocative artist.
Extraordinarily prolific, Nauman has worked with a diverse range of media. His extensive oeuvre includes sculptures, films and videos, photographs, neon works, prints, installations and vocal works. At the end of the 1960s, Nauman began constructing corridors and rooms which, entered upon by visitors, powerfully evoke the experiences of entrapment and abandonment. His relentless questioning of the human soul, and the implicit role his audience must therefore play, is powerfully demonstrated with the complex work, ‘Corridor Installation’ (Nick Wilder Installation) from 1970, where visitors, recorded by a video camera , are forced to confront their own image. ‘Corridor with Mirror and White Lights’ (1971), on the other hand, cannot be entered, yet despite this, Nauman’s use of mirrored surfaces leaves his viewers with no choice but to succumb to his wishes for self-reflection.
Often explicitly political, Nauman’s engagements with sculpture became vessels for critique in the beginning of the 1980s. Powerful in its formal simplicity, ‘Musical Chair,’ (1983) juxtaposes the suspended form of a chair with metal wires, illustrating the artist's disdain for the torture and violence implicit in the totalitarian regimes of the period. Other examples are complex neon works such as ‘American Violence,’ which plays with the iconography of the swastika, (1981-82), and ‘Sex and Death / Double 69,’ (1985), which examines the connections between sex, violence and death. Somewhat brutally rendered in neon, Nauman’s light works betray the twisted underside of advertising in American billboard culture. Nauman’s iconic installation, ‘Clown Torture,’ (1987) also deals with the themes of torture and psychological violence. In this multi-channel video work, the play of the clowns is transformed - from the expectation of an entertaining game into an unending act of direct, sinister aggression. The cruelty which often remains undetected in Vaudeville and circus acts is thus transformed into a disturbing medley of human surveillance, manipulation and trauma.
As well as presenting a significant body of works by Nauman for ‘Dream Passage’ from the Collection, Friedrich Christian Flick has donated one of the artist’s most iconic sculptural installations, ‘Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care,’ to the Hamburger Bahnhof for permanent display. Located in Hall 5 of the Rieckhallen, this architectural sculpture, made from three interlinked corridors, is exhibited for the first time since its conception in 1984, and was installed in close co-operation with the artist. Reconciling itself with the brutal, barren architecture of the Rieckhallen, Nauman deliberately tries to cultivate an all-pervading sense of extreme, existential desolation and thus forces us to question our position in space and time. Another Nauman work donated by Friedrich Christian Flick, ‘Double Cage Piece,’ (1974) has been exhibited outside Hamburger Bahnhof since 2005.
On the occasion of the exhibition ‘Dream Passage,’ the Flick Collection presents further work by Bruce Nauman in the Rieckhallen space, where a dialogue between the artists and his contemporaries, such as Robert Morris, Richard Serra and Eva Hesse, is duly negotiated. The work of younger artists, such as Richard Jackson, Dieter Roth, Manfred Pernice, Nikolaus Lang and Paul McCarthy is also exhibited in order to convey the historical gravitas associated with Nauman’s collective works on display.
In conjunction with this, a comprehensive reader is published to accompany the exhibition, where concepts central to Nauman’s oeuvre are elucidated and theoretically framed. The publication contains a collection of philosophical, literary and scholarly texts that facilitate further analyses of the artist and his contemporaries.