Bruce Nauman was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana and lives and works in New Mexico. In 1964 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where his studies included mathematics, physics and art. In 1966 he completed an MFA at the University of California, Davis and staged his first solo exhibition at Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles in May of that year.
Following graduation, Nauman set up a studio in a former grocery shop in the Mission District of San Francisco, and in 1967 sublet a space in Mill Valley, California. During this time he started recording his performances with a fixed camera, over the ten-minute duration of a 16mm film reel. During the winter of 1968–69, Nauman spent time in New York and began using a portable video camera, which enabled him to record for up to one hour. In 1968 he had his first solo exhibitions in New York with Leo Castelli Gallery, and in Düsseldorf with Konrad Fischer Galerie. Among the numerous group exhibitions Nauman has participated in are ‘Live in Your Head: When Attitude Becomes Form’ at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1969 and Documenta 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 in Kassel (1968, 1972, 1977, 1982, 1992).
Nauman’s first museum survey was co-organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1972–74) and travelled to Kunsthalle Bern; Stadtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf; Stedelijk van Abbemuseu, Eindhoven; Palazzo Reale, Milan; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; and San Francisco Museum of Art. The first solo exhibition to travel to London was co-organised by Kunsthalle Basel and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1986–87), and shortly after in 1991, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London exhibited his solo show entitled ‘Bruce Nauman: Use Me’. The first major retrospective was mounted by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis with subsequent venues including Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1993–95). Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg’s ‘Bruce Nauman : Image/Text 1966–96’ travelled to Centre Pompidou, Paris, Hayward Gallery, London and Nykytaiteen Museo, Helsinki (1997–99). Other important solo exhibitions include Dia Art Foundation, New York (2002); Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2003–04); Raw Materials, Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commission, London (2004–05); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California, touring to Castello di Rivoli, Italy, and The Menil Collection, Houston (2007–08); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2010); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012); Fondation Cartier, Paris (2015); Schaulager, Basel, touring to The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, both New York (2018–19). In October 2020 Tate Modern, London opened a survey exhibition which will tour to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan.
Among numerous awards, Nauman won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (1999) and the Golden Lion for Best National Participation for his exhibition in the US pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009). Additional prizes include the Max Beckmann Prize (1990) ; the Wolf Prize in Arts (1993) ; the Wexner Prize (1994) ; and the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale Award for sculpture (2004) and Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts, Austria (2014). He was made a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (2000) and has received honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Art Institute, California (1989) and California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (2000).