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