we don't need no stinking bruce nauman

Let's give that phrase "our Bruce Nauman" a bit more unpacking.

Ed Halter's use of it in his Artforum cover story on Guthrie Lonergan was essentially lazy.

He didn't do the hard critical work of explaining (i) what Bruce Nauman represents as an artist or (ii) what it means for a new media artist to "be a Bruce Nauman." There is one throw-away line: "If Nauman asserted that anything that happens in an artist’s studio can be art, Lonergan updated this claim for an age in which the artist’s studio had become a laptop."

Early in the last century, Dadaist Tristan Tzara said "everything the artist spits is art" -- why couldn't Lonergan be our Tzara, spewing art from his laptop? Rather than fleshing out the Nauman reference with examples, Halter practiced a kind of laying-on-of-hands where sacerdotal energy is conveyed from an established (living) master to a newbie through the medium of an almost-established master.

Halter quotes Cory Arcangel, a somewhat well-known "computer artist" operating in both the new media and gallery worlds, saying that Guthrie Lonergan, a "computer artist" who is mainly known in new media circles, is "our Bruce Nauman." The magic energy circuit is completed and authentication juice flows from Nauman into Lonergan. And the writer avoids having to translate new media concepts to a gallery-based art world. This was so effective that when ARTnews later did a feature on Lonergan (in the form of an artist's diary) they used the same trick:

Guthrie Lonergan is an elusive and influential internet artist whom Cory Arcangel once called “our Bruce Nauman.” Along with a corresponding essay by Ed Halter, an image from his 2005 series “Lonely Los Angeles” was chosen as the cover of the November 2014 issue of Artforum.

Here are some Bruce Nauman tags: eclectic, outsider, anti-art, inventive, post-studio. A California-based artist of the '60s who did video, sound art, installation, and neon, and was late being grouped with any movement (hence the outsider part). By the '90s, however, he was art world royalty, embraced by almost every critic and institution. An artist's artist who became everyone's artist.

Lonergan is inventive, eclectic, and somehow avoided the "post-internet" dragnet. After 2010 or so he may or may not have stopped working, but certainly wasn't being included in that many "new media" shows. His ARTnews diary shows that he is working and thinking -- yet the projects aren't coming to fruition as gallery-packageable products.

If he is "our" Bruce Nauman, who is the "our"? Besides Cory Arcangel. If the "we" refers to "we new media and computer artists," do "we" need a Bruce Nauman? Aren't "we" already all post-studio, eclectic, inventive, anti-art outsiders? Does it help "our" standing in the gallery world to be seen as the latest iterations of Bruce Nauman, rather than something unique and difficult to define in the terms of "their" critical sphere?