Bruce Nauman began his career in the mid-1960s, joining other artists of his generation in abandoning traditional forms of painting and sculpture. Instead, he and his peers reinvented artistic processes and mediums in a way that mirrored the revolutionary social changes defining the culture of the time. Nauman’s work has retained a fierce radicality throughout the ensuing four decades, even as it has constantly and dramatically transformed its own means and appearance.
During the 1980s, when Nauman was in his forties, his work often directly voiced his concern over profound sociopolitical problems. White Anger, Red Danger, Yellow Peril, Black Death (1984), now on view in a special installation located just outside the entrance to the fourth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries, belongs to a group of sculptures that use I-beams and chairs to address the practice of torture still employed by governments worldwide. "I thought of using a chair that would somehow become the figure," Nauman said, "torturing a chair and hanging it up or strapping it down." While such a sculpture has no political efficacy per se, for Nauman the work of art does its job by calling attention to issues that may otherwise remain unseen and unspoken.