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Neon art

By KRISTINE HANSEN

March 2006

Artist Bruce Naumanís Work with Light will be on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum through April 9.


Milwaukee Art Museum chief curator Joseph Ketner II was familiar with neon artist Bruce Naumanís provocative and contemporary work even before joining the museum in the spring of last year. The two worked together while Ketner served as director of Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University.

"This is one of the most important artists alive today. He is a very thoughtful and provocative artist," says Ketner, adding that one writer dubbed him "the Pope of contemporary art," and the London Financial Times named Nauman one of the top 10 artists of all time.

Divided into three sections and split by two fluorescent light environments, the 16 pieces in Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light (through April 9) focus solely on light. After April the exhibit travels to six other venues. One of Naumanís most well-known pieces, "Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals," a uranium neon sign resembling a skeletal figure, is included in the exhibit, along with a 5 minute flashing presentation and his earliest works: beer signs inspired by his San Francisco neighborhood.

This is Naumanís first solo exhibit in Wisconsin, although he graduated from Wauwatosa East High School and UW-Madison, where he studied mathematics. Not long after graduation, however, he earned an MFA at the University of California-Davis and found his calling in artistic expression.

Before joining MAM, Ketner was the Henry and Lois Foster Director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, specializing in contemporary art. Although a Milwaukee resident for less than a year, Ketner has been pleased by the artists heís encountered. "One of my goals is to find a way to engage them in the programs at the museum," he says.