Bruce Nauman
American, born 1941
Clown Torture
1987

Four channel video, sound (two projections, four monitors): 60 min. loop
Watson F. Blair Prize, Wilson L. Mead and Twentieth-Century Purchase funds; through prior gift of Joseph Winterbotham; gift of Lannan Foundation, 1997.162
© 2008 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman’s video installation Clown Torture consists of two pedestals, each supporting a pair of stacked color monitors, two large, color-video projections on facing walls, and sound. The monitors continuously play four narrative sequences, each chronicling the absurd misadventure of a clown (played by an actor). Video art, which emerged in the 1960s, dispensed with traditional media, partly in protest against the commercialization of the art world and partly to extend the boundaries of art.

According to the artist, distinctions can be made between the clowns in each sequence. One is the Emmett Kelly dumb clown; one is the French Baroque clown; one is a traditional, polka-dot, red-haired, oversized-shoe clown; and one is a jester. In "No, No, No, No (Walter)," the clown screams the word "no" over and over while kicking, jumping, or lying down. In "Clown with Goldfish," he repeatedly opens a door, which causes a bucket of water to fall on his head. And in "Pete and Repeat," the clown becomes increasingly horrified as he repeats the nursery rhyme: "Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence. Pete falls off. Who’s left? Repeat."

Nauman, who has worked in a variety of art forms, including body art and performance art, has often used the clown to parody the artist’s own insecurities. An intensely private individual, Nauman has long been wary of how art-world success and critical recognition can reduce the artist’s role to that of a "court jester." Even during his most private moments, Nauman suggests that the surveillance of a curious market continues.