Press Office News



Released: April 13, 2010 ·

 April 2, 2010—The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced today a major acquisition of 25 works from the collection of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo of Milan, Italy, featuring five important early works by American artist Bruce Nauman. Part gift from SFMOMA Trustees and part museum purchase, the acquisition also includes major works by Robert Barry, Joseph Beuys, Hanne Darboven, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner, among others, and further strengthens SFMOMA’s collection of American and European Conceptual art. The five works by Nauman—including the only extant Nauman painting and four sculptures made while the artist was living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area—span the years 1964 to 1967 and reveal his development during this seminal period in his career.

“Together with SFMOMA’s strong Conceptual art holdings, this acquisition will enable us to broadly represent the key issues and figures of the movement, and gives SFMOMA one of the most important concentrations of the early works of Bruce Nauman of any museum in the world,” said Gary Garrels, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture.

Other works in the acquisition include Joseph Kosuth’s Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) (Paint) (1966); three works by Lawrence Weiner titled One Kilogram of Laquer Poured upon a Floor (1969), A Stone Wall Breached (1969), and A Stone Left Unturned (1970); the work 51 Drawings (1971–72) by Hanne Darboven; Discussion: June 1972 (1972) by Ian Wilson; as well as the work My Steps in Torino–The total number of my steps in Torino in 1971–16,827 (1971) by Stanley Brouwn. Four works by Robert Barry, two room installations from 1968 Wire Installation and String Piece, and two slide projector works It Can Seem to Be… (1971–72) and It Is And It Can Be (1971–72), are the first works by Barry to enter the museum’s collection. A light installation by Douglas Wheeler also is included in the acquisition.

The acquisition adds significant works to SFMOMA’s already strong holdings of Conceptual and related art made between the early 1960s and early 1970s, joining key works by Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein, Richard Long, Mel Bochner, Eva Hesse, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, Fred Sandback, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, and Richard Tuttle—artists who have been of central importance in SFMOMA’s collection-building strategy, as well as Bay Area artists Terry Fox, Howard Fried, David Ireland, Paul Kos, and Tom Marioni. The Nauman works join one of his most significant sculptures from this period, Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists (1966), already in the museum’s collection.

Sixteen of the works are being purchased outright, and the remainder are being acquired as promised gifts from museum Trustees.

Conceptual art, which developed in the mid-1960s in both the United States, Europe, and internationally, pushed the boundaries of art to focus on core issues of perception and consciousness to embrace language and text, performance, and unorthodox materials. Artists such as Joseph Kosuth pushed art to its most immaterial presence and most philosophical edge, while artists like Nauman explored the fluid relationships between mind and body. Time and space were central issues to all of these artists, and shifting relationships between the artist and viewer became central subjects to these artists’ works. Several of the works exist only as certificates, which authorize production of the works under set conditions. 

Count Panza is widely recognized as one of the most important collectors of postwar art in the world. His collected works of Conceptual art are highly regarded worldwide, and the works acquired by SFMOMA speak to the quality and breadth of this activity in this area. His collection of American Abstract Expressionist and early Pop art was acquired in 1984 by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and a large number of Minimal art works from his collection are now in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum.


Key Nauman Works to Join SFMOMA Collection

Untitled, 1964–65
Oil on wood mounted on canvas
65 1/2 x 10 x 2 in.

This singular piece is the only extant painting by Nauman and provides a unique historical and formal precedent against which to contextualize and understand the subsequent developments of the artist’s work. Nauman had entered the graduate program at U.C. Davis as a painter, making both abstract and landscape paintings containing what he has called “strange shapes.” His painting developed to simpler shapes and colors and tended towards what he described as “a hard-edge direction…dealing with [a] large closed line—the shape, pushing off the canvas…” By the spring semester he had given up painting, writing that “I still don’t trust any kind of lush solution…and it was a conscious decision at some point—that I was not going to be a painter.” As a shaped canvas, the painting already has a sculptural character.

Untitled, 1965
Resin, cotton, and fiberglass
83 7/8 x 3 1/2 x 2 in.

Untitled, 1965–66
Latex rubber on burlap backing
96 x 50 x 3 1/2 in.

These two works also were made while Nauman was still a student at U.C. Davis. The first is among Nauman’s earliest fiberglass sculptures, made by taking a plaster mold of a handmade clay form (the clay was taken from Robert Arneson’s ceramic studio) and layering it with coats of polyester resin and fiberglass sheets. The anthropomorphic character of the work is now more pronounced than in the painting and relates to performances that Nauman made in his studio. The fundamental issues explored in these performances were the nature of gravity and balance. He tested and investigated these concepts through the shifting positions and extensions of arms, legs, and heads in relation to the fixed foundations of torsos, walls, floors, or in other instances, simply against open space. The work is also important for Nauman’s relationship to SFMOMA because Nauman saw two early sculptures from 1964 by Richard Tuttle at the museum and was attracted to the possibilities of sculpture suggested by the works, an event which led to his fiberglass sculptures. 

Immediately following the fiberglass sculptures, Nauman made a small number of works using latex rubber with cloth backing, of which this work is a prime example. Each work was made from a single sheet cut into strips. Originally these works were very flexible and their shape indeterminate. This particular sculpture was shown both horizontally and vertically, so that the elements could hang in various configurations depending upon gravity. As his performances questioned the body in relation to space and surrounding structures, these works evidence Nauman’s thinking about sculpture in relation to the space it inhabits, an issue that would remain central to his work in subsequent years. 

Device to Stand In, 1966
Enamel on steel
8 5/8 x 27 1/8 x 17 3/8 in.

Device for a Left Armpit, 1967
Copper painted plaster
14 x 7 x 10 in.

These works were made after Nauman graduated from U.C. Davis and was working in San Francisco. After leaving school, Nauman said, “I had no support structure for my art then…there was no chance to talk about my work,” and therefore, “I was forced to examine myself, and what I was doing there” (referring to his studio). His work shifted more toward conceptual and process-oriented works and away from form-based pieces, while many of the fundamental issues he was grappling with remained central. In 1966 he made a list titled “Codification” to describe these concerns: personal appearance and skin; gestures; ordinary actions such as those concerned with eating and drinking; traces of activity such as footprints and material objects; and simple sounds—spoken and written words.

A complete checklist of all 25 works in the acquisition and images are available upon request.


SFMOMA welcomes more than 650,000 visitors annually, and more than 46,000 students visit each year. Since opening its south of Market building in 1995, SFMOMA has added more than 13,000 works to its collections, 95 percent of which were donated, doubling its holdings to 26,000 works. At the same time, SFMOMA’s family programs have increased five-fold, teacher training programs have increased six-fold, and gallery tours have expanded to 1,800. SFMOMA has mounted a series of exhibitions that have drawn both record attendance and critical praise, including recent exhibitions by Diane Arbus, Olafur Eliasson, Eva Hesse, Frida Kahlo, William Kentridge, Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, and Jeff Wall.

Jill Lynch 415.357.4172 jilynch@sfmoma.org
Clara Hatcher Baruth 415.357.4177 chatcher@sfmoma.org
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