My work is about the drama of the pettiness of existence, whether one approaches it through philosophy or through a diet. In the end we always draw the short straw. — Erwin Wurm
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is presenting Erwin Wurm’s new exhibition Lost, in its Marais gallery space (Paris, January 14 – March 5, 2016). The “profanity of objects” in Erwin Wurm’s oeuvre, to quote the Gallery, is a fundamental component of his practice. His work includes cucumbers, erect penises, sausages, erotic carrots and also “fat” cars and houses that resemble pupae.
Wurm has long been a favorite sculptor of mine. But it always struck me as odd, given the plasticity and comic biomorphism of his sculpture, that he did not work in clay and ceramics. The pairing seems natural. And so I went digging. Turns out that clay is key to his oeuvre. I was not seeing this because clay was not the end product. Much of his work is sculpted in clay and then cast in polyester or bronze. Some metal works, like Banana Boy, were also painted to resemble the clay in which they were modeled.
Last year Wurm made his first ceramic works Angst /Lache Hochgebirge at the Villa Kast (Salzburg, January 24, 2015 – March 14, 2015). Some are abstract sculpture of sorts while others are vessels. He is not trying to make pots within a pottery aesthetic but rather he is using their meaning and sculptural presence to create a dialogue about their independent being.
As the gallery states, “Subject matter primarily evokes trust in the viewers, since objects are supposedly ‘familiar.’ In keeping with Aristotelian tradition, the ‘substance’ of things lies in their autonomous reality rather than in the actions of human beings, which attribute meaning to the objects or attempt to wrest their physical secrets from them.”
The gallery states that this is Wurm’s journey into volume and materiality. He acknowledges his dependency with Origami and Tantum Verde.
“In the new burnt clay sculptures I’m guided by the material… It’s as though I’m merely following the sculpture— it guides and leads me.
For Lost he adds to the popular, burgeoning genre of clay-to-bronze and other materials. The physical character of the work, whatever its final casting, remains rooted in plastic earth. But the materiality of his art on a conceptual level goes further than his source medium.
As Thaddeus Ropac states:
“This exhibition features Erwin Wurm’s latest works, in which materiality plays a significant role during the different steps of the artwork’s conception. The works are primarily in the form of everyday objects and the recollection of the haptic perception of their surfaces and materials. The form could be a body lotion dispenser, a clock, a chaise longue or an armchair. The yellowish acrylic paint on the surface of Butter (a fridge) and the creamy white acrylic paint on Body (a body lotion dispenser) apparently evince what would normally be the content of the object. The inside and the outside, the shell as a pars pro toto is a recurrent theme in Erwin Wurm’s artworks. In the past, the artist has dressed plinths as body sculptures in clothes.”
“In the Lost series, it is particularly significant that the works are vintage furniture and objects. The fact that these can be placed in historical and social contexts lend an exceptional presence to the work, evoking associations and emotions in the viewer of a “lost” time, a memory that can stand for the feeling of a whole era.”
“In a first instance, the clay model initially formed by Erwin Wurm in shapes of everyday objects can vary greatly in size. They can be larger than life, giving the work a surreal notion, or remain true to the actual size of the everyday object. Then, on the clay model, the artist leaves his physical imprint, for example by sitting on it (Sideboard) or walking over it (Snow).”
Again, Wurm is invoking and expanding on Aristotelian tradition, the “substance” of things lies in their autonomous reality, and less in the human activities that assign meaning to them or attempt to wrest from them their physical secrets. To quote Ropac:
“This is precisely the direction in which Erwin Wurm wishes to take the viewer. Thus, for instance, in Hochgebirge a black refrigerator clings to a warped high-rise building, or sausages stand or lie on chests of drawers. Here man is no longer the measure of all things – like the Earth after the Copernican revolution… a new form of materialism, or ‘realism,’ which accepts that things are not subordinate to man, but follow natural laws of their own. Markus Gabriel sums it up: ‘There is not one single world, but many, many different perspectives on the world.’ (Markus Gabriel, 2013).”
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of cfile.daily.
What do you think of Wurm’s contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.
Erwin Wurm, born in 1954, lives and works in Vienna and in Limberg/Lower Austria. During the 1990s, he attracted much attention with his “One-Minute Sculptures”. Following the artist’s partly written and partly pictorial instructions, visitors to the exhibition could themselves briefly become sculptures, by taking up often absurd poses frequently involving everyday objects – especially clothing – such as the knitted pullovers, frequently recurring in his works. Time is a further important factor which he explores in all kinds of different ways: from the shortest-lived works , the “dust sculptures”, through large-scale installations, in which fixed architectural components are dressed in knitted pullovers, to the performative “One-Minute Sculptures.” Wurm understands the concept of sculpture as the pre-modern premise that sculpture is concerned with the alteration of mass and volume.
In this respect, he describes humans gaining or losing weight as a sculptural act. His artistic expression, rather like the comic strip or science fiction images, is clear and simple, readily accessible to a wide public. At the same time, he makes use of cynical criticism. The works of the exhibition Lost will subsequently be shown at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin from 15 April until 22 August 2016. In September 2016 Erwin Wurm will open an important solo show at the Museo Novecento in Florence (Italy) and on several locations in public spaces. In his work, Erwin Wurm, albeit controversial, has done much to expand the concept of sculpture, and he uses absurd and comic elements of contemporary society – particularly in relation to the human body. In his sculptures and performances, he has repeatedly re-drawn and extended the fragile boundary defining a visible form from inside and outside, fundamentally challenging and questioning the viewer’s perception of reality. Now he is taking his vision to the kiln as well.