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Detail of Bruce Nauman’s Flayed Earth Flayed Self (Skin Sink) (1973)
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by Ben Davis

When the Bruce Nauman show won the Golden Lion in Venice earlier this month for "Best Pavilion," most art-world people were not surprised. Nauman, after all, is one of the world’s most influential living artists, a postmodern master. He came to Venice on the strength of a lavish Calvin Tomkins profile in the New Yorker, depicting the 68-year-old artist as the lonely cowboy of American contemporary art (the article may as well have been subtitled "Bruce Nauman: An American Original.") The U.S. presentation of Nauman -- tightly focused but spread out over three locations throughout the city -- blew everyone else away.