Medium at the Margins: Bruce Nauman at the End of the Sixties
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CitationWalsh, Taylor. 2021. Medium at the Margins: Bruce Nauman at the End of the Sixties. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractFor the American artist Bruce Nauman (b. 1941), medium is a problem. Nauman
graduated from art school in 1966, entering the profession at a moment of seismic change. The
very notion of a specific medium—an artwork’s material properties and their conventions of
use—risked becoming obsolete, as clear lines that once distinguished the individual arts blurred
into what one critic called “an indefinite, intermediary zone where inherited categories no longer
apply.” This lifting of barriers furnished sixties artists with a staggering range of options, and
Nauman tried them all, alternating traditional genres like sculpture and etching with emerging
fields like performance or video. Such promiscuity would seem to discredit medium altogether,
dismissing it as a relic of a rigid and hopelessly dated modernism. Yet close attention to the
objects themselves reveals a subtler stance: I read Nauman’s versatility not as a rejection of
medium, but a strategic attempt to extend its reach. Informed by unfolding debates in philosophy
and criticism over medium’s shifting definitions and continued purchase, the first decade of
Nauman’s career tested its newly elastic bounds, stretching it to accommodate willfully eccentric
formats. Through case studies of three such marginal practices—holography, artists’ books, and
even painting—this dissertation traces his persistent commitment to medium at the moment of its
presumed collapse, locating specificity where one might least expect to find it.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368423
- FAS Theses and Dissertations