EXHIBITIONS: Shout if you hate it

Bruce Nauman's show is about as appealing as `getting hit with a baseball bat' - as the artist himself might say

BRUCE NAUMAN is a highly overrated artist whose work at the Hayward Gallery turns out to be both boring and aggressive. He has all the Hayward's spaces to himself, and the rooms are mostly dark, for this is mostly an exhibition of videos. Furthermore, the show is noisy, since the videos often have repetitive soundtracks. There are lots of flashing lights and neon slogans. The effect is discomforting, as Nauman certainly intended. I found that the best way to experience the show was to take a dip into it for five minutes at a time, while otherwise making a base in the comparatively peaceful area of the Hayward cafe.

When Nauman converts tedium and punchiness into virtues, his art works. That is, it has an immediate and powerful effect on the viewer - "like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat," he hopes. In general, though, the aesthetic level is really low. Some of Nauman's working drawings were scarcely worth framing.

There's one early (1975) piece which one might class as a conventional sculpture. It consists of 16 chalk cubes placed directly on the floor in pairs. These pairs are three or four feet away from each other and form a rough circle. One of the cubes in each pair is about an inch bigger than the other. This work obviously relates to the minimal sculpture of its day, except that it's so null and feeble. Minimal sculpture declares its presence through perfect judgement of size and scale, or it is next to nothing. In these crucial respects Nauman's piece fails. He adds an irrelevant typewritten text, framed and hung on the wall.

Nauman is rather younger than the more aesthetic American minimal sculptors of the generation of Don Judd, Carl Andre and Robert Morris, whose work he admired via art magazines. He was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, studied art at the University of California, and in his earlier years was considered a West Coast artist, ie not a real part of the New York scene. Some of us remember that he first appeared at the Hayward in 1971 in a show called "Eleven Los Angeles Artists", when Nauman installed a narrow corridor - it wasn't really a sculpture, and that was the point - rather like the piece Live-Taped Video Corridor (1978) in the present exhibition. You had to squeeze through the corridor sideways. This gave small amounts of fun and irritation in equal measure.

Most of those LA artists of the early 1970s have long since disappeared into their native surf or whatever, while Nauman has steadily increased his worldwide appearances in museums. The Hayward exhibition comes to us from the Pompidou Centre, where it was organised. The show was seen last year at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, and this autumn will travel to Helsinki. The catalogue is of an impressive size, and the whole business has the air of a major retrospective. But with one fatal difference. We do not find an artist who grows and matures. Nauman's sculptures are dated; his neon signs of any date are merely trite. We see that Nauman has only ever made one artistic step of any consequence. That was to give up three- dimensional art for video.

I said just now that Nauman is overrated. As evidence, I quote the Hayward exhibition guide, which tells us that, when he gave up trying to be a sculptor, "Nauman pondered what an artist could reasonably do after the reductive aesthetic of minimalism

The "possible permutations of human behaviour within given parameters" turn out to be videos of Nauman or somebody else - occasionally the spectator - tip-toeing along a line, applying make-up, repeating phrases, or squeezing through an artificial corridor. As so often with video art, even the most accommodating spectator will be stunned by the banality of the artist's imagination. No doubt Nauman twigged that this was his problem. He decided it would be more effective to stun with the baseball bat he uses as a metaphor.

And he's right. Nauman is more effective when he's violent. I don't say that this is in his personal character. More likely that it's in the nature of the video medium. For more than 20 years now, we have been tortured by having to look at videos in horrible box-like temporary rooms in art galleries, and when have we ever seen a video artist with an authentic personal signature? This is why the videoists so often go in for self- portraiture. I add that video has to be figurative, or it would be tedious beyond anyone's attention span. It's always bad at human relations.

Nauman is clever in this area. He shows people shouting nothingnesses, and we're not sure whether the shouter is the artist himself. And one of his more elaborate videos is of a male/ female couple beating each other up. Attention-grabbing, but very soon you want to walk away.

Hayward, SE1 (0171 960 4242), to 6 September.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz