Window or Wall Sign
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Window or Wall Sign is one of the pieces in Bruce Nauman’s oeuvre that makes all his other art either make a lot more sense or no sense at all.

“The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” It makes you want to demand: “He was kidding—wasn’t he?” A critic once said that “it’s so dumb you can’t tell whether its dumbness is genuine or feigned.” Maybe it is kind of fortune-cookie-bullshit dumb, but Bruce, alongside Philip Guston, killed Minimalism’s stranglehold over the art world, and it’s hard to make a claim relative intelligence when the competition is between a neon beer sign, a pile of broken glass, and a wooden box.

The “true artist” phrase might look like a beer sign and sound like a fortune cookie, but together they become a cowboy one-liner that wouldn’t be out of place in an Annie Proulx short story about some wrangler whose horse turns on him somewhere in the high plains, kicking him off and leaving him for dead. Sure, this are is autobiographical, but Nauman is not that cowboy, his horses would never turn on him, because he loves them (and because he studied with the horse whisperer). He lets his tenderness and vulnerability out in his art and with his animals, it’s the kind of thing that frustrates his wife and ex-wives and fascinates therapists and art buyers. One psychologist whom he used to see still calls him every few months (years later) and art collectors pay tens of millions for his emotional detritus. His first wife on the other hand had an affair with feminism that tore their marriage apart, and never looked back.

Window or Wall Sign is “a little test,” Nauman said, “to see if I believed it or not.” Does the true artist help anything, do they really reveal mystic truths? His ex-wives probably don’t believe that Bruce has access to any mysticism at all, the psychologist and the art market for sure do. Bruce himself doesn’t really buy it, but he also doesn’t not. You know? He’s kidding, but life’s a joke, and if everything is a joke then is anything really?



  1. Kennedy, Randy. “Bruce Nauman, Art Provocateur Returns, Are You Ready?” The New York Times. September 8, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2018.
  2. Tate. “Bruce Nauman – ‘The True Artist Helps the World’ | TateShots.” Posted November 10, 2017. YouTube video 7:14. Accessed May 31, 2018.
  3. Tomkins, Calvin. “Western Disturbances: Bruce Nauman’s Singular Influence.” New Yorker, June 1, 2009. Accessed May 31, 2018.