Bruce Nauman, Stadium Piece, 1989-90


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Bruce Nauman, 1989-90.
Concrete, tinted white. 13' h. x 25' w. x 50' l.

Photo credit: Manuel R. del Pozo

Gift of the Virginia Wright Fund. © Bruce Nauman/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.


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Similar to Holt and Morris, Bruce Nauman has created work that dramatically breaks down the barrier that had kept the viewer on the outside of an object. Just as Morris did, he has given the spectator a new role as contributor of meaning. Rather than offering a plaque as Scott did, Nauman elaborates on the idea of spec­tacle. He creates sculptural situations for the onlooker so that spectatorship requires a deeper commitment. What we expect based on other experience can become unsettling.

In thinking about what he might propose for Western's campus, Nauman became intrigued with the area of campus south of the steps between Parks Hall (College of Business, housing business and speech pathology) and the Environmental Studies building. Perhaps, this major staircase triggered the notion that this was the public's ''front door'' to the University or that this standard, cultural idea of front stairs could be further examined in a more individual way. Earlier, at his own university, he had concentrated on math, physics, music, and philosophy. Later, when he began to make his own art, he found a type of inclusive methodology in this rigorous background and parallels among the disciplines.


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For example, in both math and physics there were examples where reason was contradictory or broken in a supposedly logical field. He liked the composer Arnold Schoenberg's use of variations in a structure as a means of timing. He appreciated the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's ability to follow an idea to conclusion and his habit of including contradictory arguments in the finished thesis. He also admired his systematic process, which often included taking a step back­ ward or also offering failed statements; and he liked his games, which allowed him to  ''find out what I was doing, how I was doing it." In Samuel Beckett's character Malloy he also found similar traits where the most ordinary, mundane human activities became important.''


Perhaps, the ''front door'' steps prompted him to remember earlier works or questions that could be freshly addressed in a university setting. For example, there is the story of the Original Slant Step (1965-66): When visiting a salvage shop, Nauman had noticed a strange wood and linoleum step that seemed to have the function of allowing shopkeepers to sit and/or to reach high places. When he closely examined it, he saw that it was actually functionless because of the degree of the slant of the step. He bargained for the slanted step because it exemplified the problems he was trying to solve in his studio. One was making art objects that appear to have a function, and another was to follow a philosophical principle that requires looking at things without preconceived notions. Nauman was interested in creating works that made the viewer think about what he knows and does not know, what he sees and does not see. Most importantly, he wanted to invite the viewer to take a step or to become performer.

At Western the ''front door'' steps are opposite the playing fields for students. Ironically, Western does not have an official stadium. While the University is strong in various competitive sports, students also enjoy the fields for exercises in theater, t'ai chi, Frisbee, and dog runs. When Nauman began to plan his work for Western, he knew the open fields would in the future become a new quadrangle including a Communications building, another academic building, and a multi-recreational building joining the existing field track. So Nauman created Stadium Piece (1998-99), a structure appearing to be a series of steps but also having the qualities of a stadium or a theater. The activity in a stadium or open theater takes place on the field; spectators on bleachers watch the activity below. Nauman liked the normal idea that students would use these steps as seats to watch the playgrounds or pedestrian and/or vehicular traffic. But he also knew that ordinary notions can be inverted. Therefore, he tur