As you look at Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture, what you see is the wildness and relentlessness of his work. A deeper examination of this masterpiece also reveals the work of a person who wishes to explore a few issues that affect human life. Among these are boredom, confusion, and entrapment. On top of that, Nauman’s artwork also examines the themes of anxiety and failure. In this review of that piece, we will look at the reasons that make Clown Torture one of Nauman’s most outstanding, memorable, and controversial creations ever.
The decision by Bruce Nauman to title his work “Clown Torture” was always bound to raise questions. After all, a clown is meant to create happiness, laughter, and leave smiling faces behind. As you can imagine, there’s nothing torturous about any of that. For that reason, putting the word ‘torture’ next to ‘clown’ doesn’t seem to make much sense. Nevertheless, that’s what Nauman hoped to achieve through that work. As previously stated, he tackled numerous human emotions and experiences through this work. The title captures it well.
Clown Torture has several mindboggling features. The following features define its uniqueness:
- Two rectangular pedestals
- Two pairs of color monitors stacked upon each other and supported by the pedestals
- Two massive color video projections
- Sound from the surrounding six video displays
Through these features, you already get a glimpse into the qualities that make this piece of art special. In fact, many art lovers consider it notorious and quite controversial. It has nothing to do with the traditional forms of art that most art enthusiasts are accustomed to. Using the monitors, Nauman is able to narrate five stories all featuring a common denominator; that is, a clown. In all of them, we see the irredeemably ugly clown screaming, jumping up and down, mumbling a creepy nursery rhyme, and laughing nervously among other activities.
Bruce Nauman, through his
All images: Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York unless otherwise noted.