From Seeing Art to Being Art – Erwin Wurm - ART FIX

From Seeing Art to Being Art - Erwin Wurm

“Yes, I did step into this bucket and stuck the other one over my head: as I became part of Erwin Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculpture’ called ‘Double Bucket'."

Unlike some art which can be viewed with hands behind one’s back, Erwin Wurm’s work is not art for the passive viewer. Instead, the Austrian conceptual artist encourages viewers to participate in his ‘one minute sculptures’. Viewers are invited to step onto the white pedestal and engage with the object. In our case, the objects of choice were two buckets. On the wall behind us hung a friendly  ‘how to’ guide: a little drawing and brief written by the artist, a message from Wurm to his interactive viewers. 

For participants, the effect is a little embarrassing, and dare we say provocative, especially in the setting of a museum or a gallery. It invites you to become a temporary sculpture, daring you to become a part of the furniture for a split second and literally step into the unconventional and absurd world of Wurm. If you’ve found yourself weary of art that takes itself too seriously, then this artist is the one for you. 

What’s this all about? Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ offer a unique way of experiencing art beyond the conventional audio guide-induced dopey stares that usually fill a gallery hall. A unique opportunity to become a part of the art, and truly become “it”. An important factor here is that no artwork is left uncaptured, there’s always a camera on the other end to capture the ‘One Minute Sculpture’ and solidify its permanence. 

Despite being popularised in the age of Instagram, Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculpture’ is decades old, proving its popularity year in and year out. Over the years, museum visitors have lined up to become engaged participants, performers, and curators, all in their own way. The ‘One Minute Sculpture’ has proved to be a huge success: while there are several versions of the ‘One Minute Sculpture’, with one famous version shaking up the Tate in London in 1997, and then returning in 2016, while another was shown at the prestigious art exhibition the Venice Biennale in 2017.

This may beg the question: why would you do this? In today’s world where a pandemic is spreading across the world like wildfire, it may seem absolutely absurd! But let us take you back to the days pre-Covid: at Art Fix we believe the experience of the transformation —  even for a short instance — into a work of art is the magic of these sixty seconds.

Roast yourself under the sun of Epicurus

Check out this video to learn more about the ‘One Minute Sculpture’.

Wurm also produces very large-scale sculptures and installations. In the ‘Fat Car’ and the ‘Fat House’, he examines both spatial and psychological relationships with the material objects in our daily life. Middle class culture and status symbols — think cars and family homes — feature as the artist’s choice of these works. 

“The car and the house, the two objects which I’ve made fat, were always the most beloved objects of human beings – before they created the iPhone. It’s how we address our well-being, our wealth, our coolness. It’s social status.”

A snappy and striking piece of commentary from the artist who tickles our conceptualism fancy.

As shown in this video, Wurm’s ‘Fat House’ becomes a chatty object, forming a dialogue with itself. Instead of looking like a charming suburban home with a beautifully tiled roof, Wurm’s artwork has transformed into a stuffed obese-like object. It raises the question: what is the definition of contemporary art, and who is the arbiter of this definition? 

And the bulging theme only continues: in 2018, Wurm transformed a yellow VW Microbus into an overstuffed, larger-than-life ‘Hot Dog Bus’. He eventually used it to serve 50,000 free hot dogs to people at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York. Perhaps an underlying message here is to take it easy on the hotdogs, otherwise you may face the same destiny as the fatty Volkswagen! Curious to see how Wurm blew these vans out of proportion? Check out this video of the making of this bus. 

Even in recent months, Wurm has been busy cooking up more art (no free hotdogs this time, however). During our last visit to Paris, the Art Fix team visited Erwin Wurm’s photography exhibition at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, or MEP for short, where we discovered just how important “the documentation” of Wurm’s art truly is. The impressive retrospective in Paris showed Wurm’s photographs and videos of his amazing body of work, offering a unique opportunity to really dive into the artist archive. 

The exhibition offers an insider view of the eclectic practice of the Austrian artist, with more than 200 photographs from the late 1980s to present day. “I like the idea of the frozen moment as a way of making a sculpture”, Wurm says. We interpreted this retrospective as a frozen moment, one without action or interaction. While the MEP doesn’t offer the world’s fastest way to become an artwork in the same way his ‘One Minute Sculptures’ did, the exhibition is absurd in all the right ways… and more importantly: it doesn’t even require you to wear a bucket on your head — just a mask on your face.

You didn’t think we’d leave you without an Art Fix, did you? Wurm’s work has gained such global recognition that he’s even mentioned in other fields beyond art: Wurm is credited for inspiring the concept and imagery of the video ‘‘Can’t Stop’ of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the song with more than 150 million views on YouTube, which you’ve undoubtedly sung in your car. 

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