Bruce Nauman at York St Mary’s


York St. Mary’s is a deconsecrated medieval church in the city centre that’s been transformed into a contemporary arts venue in 2004.

We visited the gallery during our recent short break in York to see the Bruce Nauman exhibition that was on show (part of the Artist Rooms series series of exhibitions produced in conjunction with the Art Fund), but also to have a look round inside the old church. Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside the either of the art works or the building.


The church was a typical small urban gothic style building. It didn’t have any outstanding features but there was some quite nice stained glass and it does have the tallest steeple in York at 47 metres high.

Bruce Nauman is an American conceptual artist who rose to prominence in the 1960s. The exhibition featured works in various media – sculpture, film and video, neon tubes, and photography.

ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman - York St Mary's

Jennifer Alexander, assistant curator of fine art, is quoted on the gallery’s website as saying:

Nauman’s diverse art and groundbreaking works have made him one of the most highly respected and influential figures in contemporary art, particularly noted for his video and performance works. For those new to his work, this collection from ARTIST ROOMS and Tate will provide an introduction, and for those more familiar with Nauman, this is a chance to consider his work in the beautiful and unique architectural context of York St Mary’s.

I’m not particularly a great fan of conceptual art. I like some but much of it doesn’t move me. So the exhibition was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

I’d seen one of the video works– Good Boy Bad Boy (1985) – at the Tate in Liverpool and I’m pretty sure I’d seen another one – Violent Incident: Man-Woman Segment (1986). Having seen them more than once they’ve sort of grown on me.

My favourite work in the exhibition was a more “traditional” bronze sculpture – a circle of hands making what could be conceived as an obscene gesture

Bruce Nauman, ‘Untitled (Hand Circle)’ 1996

Untitled (Hand Circle) 1996 (Picture source: Tate website)

And I thought this neon work, which features on the exhibition poster, was quite clever.


VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE (1981-2) (Picture source: Tate website)

The individual words flash on and off in different combinations.

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