Art critic Peter Plagens first encountered Bruce Nauman's work in Europe in 1968. It was at Documenta, an exhibition of contemporary art mounted every five years in Kassel, Germany. Nauman, who was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1941, had his suite of Eleven Color Photographs, including his seminal Self-Portrait as a Fountain, in the show. The initial reaction of Plagens, who has written art reviews and essays for Artforum, Art in America, and The New York Times, was one of dislike.
"I was living in Brussels," Plagens told Pasatiempo. "I went to Documenta, and here were these photographs and Self-Portrait as a Fountain with a young Bruce Nauman, nude from the waist up, in a kind of facetious pose spitting water. There were those other photographs with him making those obvious puns people would call groaners, you know, Waxing Hot and the photograph is of a hand polishing the word 'hot' and I thought, God, what lightweight stuff, and real smart-alecky. I was an abstract painter, and at the time I went to Brussels I had just about gotten my head around minimalism and maybe into a little conceptual stuff. ... Bruce and I are about the same age. I was born in March; he was born in December. I was probably a bit of a smart aleck, too. In my original reaction, as in four years later when I wrote the review for Artforum of his early retrospective — he was only 30 years old in 1972, when the L.A. County Museum gave him this retrospective — there was a considerable amount of envy that I didn't recognize at the time. He's a wiseass. I'm a wiseass. Why can't I get this kind of attention? Of course, the answer is obvious: because you didn't do it. Later, in '72, a bit of the same thing and a little bit of fear, because there was a recognition that there's something here. The 'something here' scared me in the sense that, here goes painting out the window."
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