After studying at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Bruce Nauman moved to the University of California, Davis, where he finished his post-graduate studies in 1966. It is difficult to classify Nauman’s work as part of any particular movement. His references go back to the Dadaist work of Man Ray, the theatre of Samuel Beckett, and the different currents of the sixties and seventies such as Minimalism, Conceptual art and Body art. Equally, his work embraces a variety of techniques: drawing, painting, installation, photography, cinema and video, among others, often reinforced by the use of written or spoken language. A constant characteristic of his work is the more or less explicit presence of a political attitude and progressive ethics.
In his early work, made from 1965 to 1972, Nauman reflects on his own position and attitude toward reality through works marked by idealism and ironical distancing in equal measure. During this period, Nauman is present in many of his works through his own image, the traces left by his body on different supports, and his own name and signature.
From 1973 his work begins to be widely recognised, especially in Europe. Yet, paradoxically, Nauman reduces his production at that point and becomes interested in subjects that go beyond his own image in an attempt to handle social questions. Many of his sculptures and architectural installations, such as his corridor pieces, provoke some very uncomfortable feelings in the viewer and transmit the anguish and frustration the artist himself felt. After 1980, Nauman becomes more overtly political in his work and openly denounces the violence of totalitarian regimes in Latin America and South Africa. In the following decade his work becomes an undisputable reference for a whole generation of artists and is widely recognised in the United States. The works become more aggressive and his videos and sculptures are filled with tormented characters. Nauman has been living in New Mexico since 1979, in a voluntary seclusion that keeps him isolated from the great capitals of the art world.