About This Artwork

Bruce Nauman
American, born 1941

Human Nature/Life Death, 1983

Neon tubing with clear glass tubing suspension frames
182.9 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm (72 x 72 x 4 in.)

Acquired from City of Chicago Public Art Program Collection, through prior gifts of Florence S. McCormick and Emily Crane Chadbourne, 2004.151

© 2018 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman made his first neon wall relief in 1966, and from that early moment launched a career-long examination of the playful as well as deceptive potential of language. Indeed, he is known for potent, materially unorthodox work that engages the complexity and absurdity of verbal expression. Nauman’s neon pieces can appear at first bright and festive. But the cheerful, shop-sign colors and commonplace yet momentous words—which in this case form a literal “peace sign”—communicate viscerally, sometimes darkly. The flashing light is both lulling and disturbing, offering up possible meanings or associations that then blink away again. The artist created Human Nature/Life Death for a 1985 sculpture exhibition in Chicago; it was originally installed at the subway entrance on the northeast corner of State and Madison streets.

— Permanent collection label

Interpretive Resources

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