Erwin Wurm, The Beauty Business, GEM Den Haag

June 25 - September 18, 2011

The GEM presents the first ever major Dutch retrospective of the Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm (b. 1954). His work has evolved into a humorous universe in which he himself, his audience, articles of clothing, thoughts or actions can all become pieces of sculpture.

Wurm directs his light-hearted criticism against the consumer society of today. His Fat Houses and Fat Cars series, for example, poke fun at the use of luxury homes and automobiles as status symbols, while simultaneously referring to the obesity that threatens the health of Western nations. His Instructions on How to be Politically Incorrect, such as ‘spit in someone’s soup’ or ‘pee on someone’s carpet’, are equally good examples of the ironic tone he adopts. However, Wurm is best known for his One Minute Sculptures, in which – with the help of an object and drawn instructions – members of the public turn themselves into sculptures. Visitors of The Beauty Business are invited to take an active part in The Beauty Business by posing as One Minute Sculpture.

Wurm trained in Vienna in the 1970s, the heyday of conceptual art. In the preceding decades, artists of the Wiener Aktionismus (including Günther Brus) had introduced ‘body art’ into Austria. Although Wurm says he is not interested in the body as such, his work is clearly rooted in that tradition. Wurm considers the search for space, potential form and volume the basic principles of sculpture, around which his work revolves.

Wurm’s oeuvre is not confined to do-it-yourself artworks. He also creates sculptures in the traditional sense of objects that can be placed on plinths. Everything he makes demonstrates the same interest in the addition or subtraction of volume. Articles of clothing can become sculptures, even without a human support. For example, he has draped sweaters over boxes and fastened them to the wall to form temporary sculptures. After the exhibition, the sweaters could go straight back into the wardrobe. The temporary nature of such works is important to Wurm. Our modern world has turned the age-old values of the past – the church, the state and marriage – into dead letters. Their decease is reflected in Wurm’s sculptures. Even his ‘permanent’ pieces have something temporary about them: his sculpture of a globular little man, The Artist who Swallowed the World, depicts a single moment in time: one way or another, what has been swallowed usually reappears again.

Wurm has created a number of photos for fashion labels like Bally and Hermès in which he has given his own interpretation of the labels; he also produced a photo-series for Vogue in which Claudia Schiffer followed his instructions. Wurm was also approached by The Red Hot Chili Peppers; they sought permission to use his ideas (one minute sculptures) in their video-clip Can’t Stop; they got it, but only on condition that Wurm himself had a hand in the clip. The exhibition will also include examples of the furniture that Wurm has created in recent years: cupboards that can serve as chairs or vice versa.