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Bruce NAUMAN | The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths (Window or wall sign)
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Bruce NAUMAN
United States of America born 1941
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The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths (Window or wall sign) 1967
fluorescent tubes
MDF backing board 1650mm x 1650mm
number 1 from an edition of 3, plus Artist's Proof
others from the edition are in the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel
149.9 (h) x 139.7 (w) x 5.1 (d) cm
backing board 165.0 (h) x 165.0 (w) cm
not signed, not dated
Purchased 1978
NGA 1978.976
© Bruce Nauman. Licensed by ARS & VISCOPY, Australia
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Discussion of the work

Window or wall sign was made in the winter of 1966-67 at a time when Nauman had established his studio in a disused grocery shop in San Francisco. The work was designed for the large shop window at the front of the studio, rather like the neon advertising signs that hung in the shop fronts nearby, although Nauman's neon carried a rather different message: 'The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths'.1

Referring to the conception of Window or wall sign, Nauman stated, 'I had the idea that I could make art that would kind of disappear-an art that was supposed to not quite look like art. In that case, you wouldn't really notice it until you paid attention. Then, when you read it, you would have to think about it.'2

The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test-like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement, 'The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It's true and it's not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself For me it's still a very strong thought.3

The success of Nauman's first New York exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in January-February 1968 prompted Castelli to suggest that works by the artist using fluorescent tubing be issued in small editions and Nauman authorised Window or wall sign to be produced in an edition of three. The two other versions are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, and in the collection of the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basle.

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.372.

  1. Nauman at this time also produced a transparent mylar window shade imprinted 'The true artist is an amazing luminous fountain', which also appeared behind the plate- glass window of the shop front.
  2. Brenda Richardson, Bruce Nauman: Neons, Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1982 (exhibition catalogue), p.20.
  3. ibid., p.20.
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