Color and space confined
Edge through a narrow walkway in Bruce Nauman’s “Blue and Yellow Corridor,” a Manetti Shrem exhibit with works by the UC Davis alum
Is it possible to feel color? I wonder as I slowly step … step … step, my body shifted slightly diagonal, sidling through a gap between two walls. I’m keenly aware of my leather jacket’s squeak and the swish of my jeans. The static colored light plays tricks, bathing me in dizzying, disorienting sensations.
It’s my second time in Blue and Yellow Corridor, artist Bruce Nauman’s one-way maze, conceptualized through a short series of sketches in 1970-71, about five years after he received his master’s degree from UC Davis. It was never built until now.
“[The exhibit] brings the piece full circle,” says Randy Roberts, deputy director at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.
Blue and Yellow Corridor has been so popular since it opened in September that it’s being extended through April 14. The exhibit will reopen Sunday, January 27.
At first appearance, it’s simple: A three-sided wall presses perfectly into the room—walls encasing it, leaving a 12- to 18-inch gap between itself and the outer wall. Yellow, blue, and (again) yellow light tubes emit a soft glow in the dark room. Aptly named, the combination creates a blue and yellow corridor, but together, the two hues converge and splash new colors on the walls—pinks, purples and cheery peachy hues.
The only other props are two cameras peering down at the participants, and a pair of boxy TVs on the ground facing either end of the corridor, displaying the corridor’s ends via closed-circuit video. If you look back just as you’re turning the corner, you can catch a glimpse of yourself turned sideways, further disorienting you.
The deceptively simple piece hides its own surprises. When you first enter the room, the calm, colorful light gives off a playful glow. But as soon as you step into that narrow space, those same playful elements start to feel ominous and jarring. There is a larger hand at play, an authoritative hand.
Nauman is an interdisciplinary conceptual artist whose pieces travel beyond conventional boundaries. He initially entered UC Davis’ art program as a painter, but after experimenting with manipulating materials such as fiberglass and rubber, his focus shifted to sculpture.
Taught and inspired by other local art heroes including Wayne Thiebaud, William Wiley, Manuel Neri and Robert Arneson, his work explores a range of disciplines such as sculpture, painting, performance, video, photography and printmaking. He often combines media for his pieces, making them difficult to categorize.
Working with themes such as space, language and movement, Nauman views the human body as “something you can manipulate” and treats it as a medium of sculpture. Though he uses sculptures and installations in his performances, in his absence he invites you to become the performer in his place, making you acutely aware of the space and your occupancy in it.
The exhibit also includes a selection of some of Nauman’s early works, including Manipulating the T Bar and Sound Effects for Manipulating the T Bar (1965), shot in Nauman’s own studio at UC Davis, and his master’s degree project Cup Merging with its Saucer and Cup and Saucer Falling Over (1965). Guest curated by Ted Mann, who’s worked with Nauman multiple times, the show encompasses much of what the Manetti Shrem Museum does.
As part of the UC Davis campus, the museum opened in November 2016 with the goal to uphold the legacy of many of the artists who started their career while studying there. Those include Thiebaud, Nauman, Arneson and current students. Some of their pieces are included in UC Davis’ fine arts collection, which contains more than 5,000 works.
The exhibit coincides with Nauman’s retrospective being held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Blue and Yellow Corridor’s reopening will be juxtaposed with the opening of a new exhibit, Xicanx Futurity, showcasing the work of six Chicana artists. Xicanx Futurity will be held in the same space as Blue and Yellow Corridor.
Attempting the corridor is not for the claustrophobic. But if you’re up for a participatory experience, the piece serves as a beautiful, yet haunting abstraction of not only the space but also ourselves.
“It’s fun,” Roberts says. “And it’s been really interesting because we’ve had all kinds of people come through to see the piece, students and alumni and often visitors will spend a long time in [the exhibit] and some even come back a second time.”