Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up: No. 1 White, No. 2 Pink, No. 3 Green, No. 4 Black grew out of his interest in questioning what artists do, what art is, and how it is made. The piece was originally recorded on film, and later transferred to video. As the film rolled through the camera, it made an incessant clicking sound. This serves as a soundtrack of sorts and also calls attention to the camera itself, reminding viewers that what appears on the screen is staged and constructed by the artist. Nauman addresses this fact—that a work of art is imagined, or made up, by an artist—in his video’s title.
Art Make-Up is composed of four individual segments, each 10 minutes long. In them, Nauman appears tightly framed by the camera against a blank background, shirtless, and visible from the torso up. The action begins. Dipping his fingers into a small dish of makeup, he smears his face and body with the thick pigment until he is entirely covered. As the work’s title indicates, he begins with white makeup. He then moves on to pink, green, and, finally, black, layering each color on top of the previous ones. These colors have distinct resonances, especially when applied to the skin. “And I suppose it had whatever social connections it had with skin color and things like that,” the artist once said about Art Make-Up, acknowledging the link between a person’s appearance and assumptions others make about their identity. His applications also have associations with gender, since it is women who are typically the ones to wear makeup.
Nauman has specified that Art Make-Up should be projected simultaneously onto four walls of a room, so that viewers are surrounded by the work and all of his color changes at once. Its clicking soundtrack comes through speakers, further immersing us in the work. We see the artist make himself up methodically and without expression, staring off-camera into what is likely a mirror to regard his changing image—just as we watch him transform. By coating his own body with pigment, he demonstrates that even the artist himself can be made into a work of art.