Bruce Nauman, Musical Chairs
Bruce Nauman, Musical Chairs (1983)

I’d been looking forward to the Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum. Like so many exhibitions it had been postponed because of the pandemic. At the first opportunity I travelled to Amsterdam to see the show. I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed, not because of the quality of the work, but because the exhibition appears to be a pared down version of the one at Tate Modern in 2020, enhanced by works from Dutch collections. Evidently, I had been hoping to discover new works by one of my favorite artists, but I enjoyed seeing works that I was already familiar with. After all, it had been years since I’d seen them.

I particularly enjoyed seeing "Clown Torture" (1987) again, although enjoy may not be the right word. On a number of screens it shows a clown exposed to various forms of mild torture. One clown gets a bucket of water on his head when he opens a door, while another clown gets ever more desperate when he gets stuck in a linguistic loop: Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence, Pete fell off. Who’s left? Repete. Pete and Repete… I tried to write it down in such a way as to not make it too obvious. It is hilarious but also painful to watch.

I also enjoyed seeing the original version of "Good Boy, Bad Boy" (1985). Raw Materials at Tate Modern only included the audio. It consists of two monitors showing an actor presenting a monologue. Because the screens are side by side it looks like a dialogue in which the speakers ignore each other.

At the entrance of the exhibition an early video shows Nauman washing his hands with water and soap, a work that suddenly has become highly topical.

Bruce Nauman is at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until 24 October 2021.

My review of Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials at Tate Modern.