Partial Truth comprises a rectangular slab of polished black granite into which have been carved the words ‘PARTIAL TRUTH’ over two lines in the Roman-style lettering scriptura monumentalis. While the word ‘PARTIAL’ is centrally aligned on the upper register, the word ‘TRUTH’ below is indented slightly to the right of centre. The inscribed letters are a lighter colour than the polished surface of the slab so that they stand out against the black. The artist has specified that the sculpture may be displayed directly on the floor, propped up against a wall, or placed on a gilded shelf. When installed on the floor the slab is placed on a shallow wooden plinth, with the letters pointing up to the ceiling, so that a shadow is cast underneath the slab making it appear as though it is floating just above the floor. On the reverse side, ‘Bruce Nauman’ has been inscribed into the stone using a machine, accompanied by the stone-maker’s mark ‘Gemini GEL’ and a symbol comprising the letter U within a small circle. The reverse left corner has been inscribed BN97-2181 5/25, indicating that this work is number five of an edition of twenty-five.
As is the case with many of Nauman’s works, including his neon pieces, the actual fabrication of the work was done by someone else, in this case a stone craftsman. Nauman’s specific plans, in the form of drawings, were followed in the process of constructing the final piece. In addition to this series of granite works Nauman produced fifty prints with the same phrase, ‘PARTIAL TRUTH’, rendered in the same scriptura monumentalis font, for the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art on the occasion of their 1997 exhibition Bruce Nauman: 1985–1996: Drawings, Prints, and Related Works. Prior to making Partial Truth Nauman executed a series of seven black granite slabs titled Seven Virtues/Seven Vices (private collection) in 1983–4, which were his first works in carved black granite. He had previously used blocks of granite for a 1976 work, Enforced Perspective: Allegory and Symbolism (Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles), although this did not include text. In 1989 the artist also used granite slabs for Elliott’s Stones (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), a work made for the contemporary art collector Gerald S. Elliott.
In a 2001 interview with the curator Joan Simon, in response to the question of whether he was thinking of working in neon again, Nauman explained where the idea for Partial Truth came from:
No. The last one that almost came up was the piece I did, Partial Truth, when Konrad [the art dealer Konrad Fischer] was dying. It was the year that Susan [Rothenberg] and I had sublet a loft in New York. Konrad had heard about that. He called and said, ‘Bruce, I hear you’re moving to New York.’ I said. ‘No, well maybe partly. This is partly true.’ And he said, ‘This is a piece. We’ll make this piece.’ So I didn’t really think about it very much, but I did make a drawing. By the time I’d made a drawing, he’d already made plans to have it made in neon. Then he died before anything got done. I didn’t really want to do it in neon; it seemed appropriate to do it in stone. That was the last tiny thing that almost got done in neon.
(Cited in Kraynak 2003, pp.392–3.)
Nauman specifically chose granite for Partial Truth to honour his friendship with Fischer. The choice of material and font in which the words are inscribed evoke those used for gravestones, imbuing the work with quiet pathos. Curator Eugen Blume views Partial Truth as ‘characteristic’ of a broader tendency in art of the 1990s that sought ‘to turn over a new leaf, to contest the whole mechanical, routine, unresisting code of affirmativity’ (Blume 2010, p.46). While the use of granite and the scriptura monumentalis font speak of memorialisation, the change of artistic direction that it signaled, from the glow of neon to the more antiquated format of a stone carving, highlights a shift in artistic practice. Moreover, the words ‘PARTIAL TRUTH’ resist confirming completeness, implying that not all is what it seems.
Jill Snyder and Ingrid Schaffner, Bruce Nauman: 1985–1996: Drawings, Prints and Related Works, exhibition catalogue, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield 1997.
Joan Simon, ‘Bruce Nauman: Vices and Virtues: Interview’, 2001, in Janet Kraynak (ed.), Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2003, pp.384–95.
Eugen Blume, ‘Bruce Nauman: Live or Die – or: The Measuring of Being’, in Friedrich Christian Flick Collection (ed.), Bruce Nauman: Live or Die, exhibition catalogue, Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin 2010, pp.8–53.
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