[Henry Moore Bound to Fail] comes out two ways. It comes out "Henry Moore Bound to Fail," and just "bound to fail," which is more general. But there were several pieces that dealt with [the sculptor] Henry Moore about that time, and they had to do with the emergence of the new English sculptors, Anthony Caro and [William] Tucker and several other people. There was a lot written about them and they […] Some of them sort of bad-mouthed Henry Moore—that the way Moore made work was old—fashioned and oppressive and all the people were really held down by his importance. He kept other people from being able to do work that anyone would pay attention to. So he was being put down, shoved aside, and the idea I had at the time was that while it was probably true to a certain extent, they should really hang on to Henry Moore, because he really did some good work and they might need him again sometime. 1
1 Lorraine Sciarra, Interview with Bruce Nauman (January 1972) in Janet Kraynak, ed., Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003), pp. 159-160.
In November 1960, Caro caused a great deal of offense to older people by saying in a newspaper article that Moore's achievement in sculpture was a matter of historical fact, but that (in so many words) the future lay with a new generation and a new kind of sculpture. This was thought to be very dreadful, and all the more so in that Caro had learned much from Moore and been received by him with all possible kindness. The truth is that only a very big man can block up the view, and only a brave and clear-sighted one can point out that fact and draw the right conclusions from it…it took Caro to say that Moore, though far from dead, had explored certain kinds of sculpture to a point beyond which no one else could carry them.1
1 John Russell, "Portrait: Anthony Caro," Art in America 54, no. 5 (September-October 1966): 83.
In the early 1960s, British artist Henry Moore (1898-1986) was widely regarded as one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. At the same time, several young sculptors, frustrated by their inability to emerge from the artist's shadow, began lashing out at Moore in public. Nauman's sculpture was made in response to their criticisms. It also belongs to a group of Nauman's early works that give physical expression to figures of speech. In this case, the form itself becomes a kind of pun: the "back view" Nauman offers (based on a photograph of his own back) is the "face" of the work.