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If You See One Art Exhibit This Season, Make It This Blockbuster

Bruce Nauman’s first U.S. retrospective in 25 years is coming to New York, and collectors, along with the rest of us, should pay attention.

Bruce Nauman. Contrapposto Studies, i through vii (detail). 2015/2016.

Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York

This June, when the art world descended on Basel, Switzerland, for the city’s annual art fair, the must-see event wasn’t in the booth—it was the Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Schaulager. Reactions tended to fall into two camps. The first was outright adulation. The second was about how it would look when it traveled to MoMA in the fall. 

Now the show—Nauman’s first U.S. retrospective in 25 years—has finally arrived in New York. “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts” runs from Oct. 21 through Feb. 25 and takes up the entire sixth floor of MoMA in Manhattan and the whole of MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. There are 165 works from almost 70 lenders, including rare sculptures, paintings, installations, videos, drawings, and performances. Nauman’s most recognizable art is probably his work with neon: Multicolored figures run, and walls of words and phrases blink on and off, their messages changing dramatically based on which words are lit. His art doesn’t have a unified aesthetic—his minimal, occasionally massive sculptures have little in common with the neon works—but almost all of it is, in some intrinsic way, an experimentation with art with a capital “A” that actively engages the viewer.