Bruce Nauman. Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer). 1988
Bruce Nauman

Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer)

1988
Not on view
Medium
Plexiglass maze, closed-circuit video camera, scanner and mount, switcher, two videotape players, 13-inch color monitor, 9-inch back-and-white monitor, video projector, and two videotapes (color, sound)
Dimensions
Dimensions variable
Credit
Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust
Object number
471.1996
Copyright
© 2015 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Department
Painting and Sculpture

In this video installation, a low, transparent yellow Plexiglas maze, divided into many chambers, rests on the floor in the center of a darkened gallery. Monitors of different sizes occupy the two ends of the maze. They face the structure, while a video projector placed on a crate beams images onto an adjacent wall. All three video streams alternately display recorded images of a rat trapped within the maze and a teenage boy frantically playing the drums, interspersed with live images fed by a scanning video camera that surveys the now-empty maze. (Depending on the placement of the camera, it may also transmit images of the legs of passing viewers.)

The drums are loud, the equipment is devoid of visual pleasure, the maze is sharp-cornered and sickly yellow, and the signs of frustrated habit in the movements of both the boy and the rat are painfully similar. Nauman culled the title phrase from an article published in Scientific American in 1987 titled "Stressed Out: Learned Helplessness in Rats Sheds Light on Human Depression." Here the artist parodies a laboratory experiment and questions the social and scientific belief that human nature can be improved through controlled environments and behavioral retraining.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 93

Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource

Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource