NeonSense: ways of seeing Bruce Nauman's neon artworks

Bell, Laurie (2006) NeonSense: ways of seeing Bruce Nauman's neon artworks. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The neon artworks of Bruce Nauman remain as original and as affecting as they were when first exhibited and are arguably the facet of his oeuvre which has been most influential to subsequent generations of artists. This paper attempts to solve the mystery of why his neon work is so affecting and so very effective in communicating the artist's message. In order to accomplish this the history of neon as an advertising medium and advertising theory are investigated as it is undoubtedly with these influences in mind that we approach the neon work of art initially, so deeply entrenched is neon in the psyche of popular culture. The playfulness and sincerity that Nauman's neon works seem to emanate in spite of, or as a direct reaction to, his chosen subject is also placed under scrutiny. Nauman's neon works, whether they be textual or figurative, are intrinsically playful. This notion is only accentuated by the candy colours of the neon and the stilted animation of the more complex works. His neon art plays with us, plays with our understanding of language and our own human nature. Neon advertising can be taken at face value. In the advertising world neon is essentially 'straight'. Unlike all other advertising media neon doesn't sell to the consumer, it informs. It would seem plausible, therefore, that neon transfigured as art would retain that reputability, at least In terms of the viewer's initial perception of the work displayed. Nauman's neon artworks are also always displayed as signs - they are always vertically displayed on walls, in windows-adding to this sublimation of the advertising form. The role of literary and philosophical influences upon the artist may also hold the key to the success of Nauman's work especially in terms of language reception. Nauman has often cited the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein as an important influence, while the affinity his work has with playwright Samuel Beckett's own obsession with the human condition is too strong to deny. Nauman also takes from French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet his repetitive rhythm. Repetition being used by both to force the reader/viewer to pay attention. Finally, in order to ascertain whether this phenomenon is specific to Nauman or is, in fact, generally symptomatic of the use of neon as art, his work is compared with his closest contemporaries - Joseph Kosuth and Maurizio Nannucci. Both of whom also first used neon - particularly as a means to investigate language use and reception - in the mid-1960's.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Bruce Nauman, neon sculpture.
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Mrs Marie Cairney
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-41013
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2019 15:18
Last Modified: 20 May 2021 14:34

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