Philadelphia Art Museum Biography

the true artist

the true artist

Reagan Wish Staff Writer

Ya girl is back with another installment of your favorite: “Why Haven’t You Gone to the PMA Yet?” (it’s a working title). If my first rant about a rad German rapier didn’t quite woo you, you’re in luck—we’re in a completely different genre now. 

“The true artist…” (1967) by Bruce Nauman is one of my favorites in the museum. It’s aesthetically pleasing and thematically intriguing—the neon is both bold and whimsical, the text both grandly silly and totally genuine, the perfect photo both with you and without you. It’s a total mess of contradictions, and as a bonus it’s super fun to look at.

Even cooler is how the piece creates a unique atmosphere in the gallery. Often, people think of museums as a collection of cold, isolated rooms with almost-empty stark white walls, connected by echoing hallways that forbid conversation and heavy footsteps. “The true artist…” takes this idea and smashes it to pieces. The glamorous neon sign generates a soft light that relaxes the viewer.  A subtle buzz undercuts the expectation of silence in a gallery. Instead of a harsh, silent gallery, the piece invites conversation and laughter about or around the art (especially when you see the other works in the room). It also inspires the best photoshoots—a trip to the PMA is not complete without you posing for an artsy picture in front of “The true artist…” And if you don’t believe me, check the location tag for the PMA—it’s utterly iconic. 

If you want to take your own insta-worthy pic with this neon art, you can in Gallery 171 on the first floor.