Artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset are gaining exposure on both sides of the world, thanks to London’s Whitechapel Gallery and Adrian Cheng’s K11 Art Foundation
The artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset are gaining exposure on both sides of the world this month, thanks to London’s Whitechapel Gallery and Adrian Cheng’s K11 Art Foundation
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have a knack for making people feel uncomfortable. For twenty-plus years, the Scandinavian duo have been making clever, thoughtprovoking sculptures and installations exploring everything from capitalism and the Aids crisis to architecture and public space. For one work, Death of a Collector, they built a fully functioning swimming pool and floated a life-size sculpture of a besuited man face-down on the water. When this installation was unveiled at the Venice Biennale in 2009, art collectors stood poolside and watched their fictional counterpart float by. Another of the duo’s sculptures was simply a frosted-glass door on which the letters VIP were engraved at head height— but the door couldn’t be opened. Does this make everyone a VIP, or is the work suggesting that no one is truly important?
Elmgreen & Dragset’s work may make people squirm, but art insiders love them for it. The duo have won numerous international prizes, been awarded honorary doctorates and been the subject of exhibitions at leading institutions, including the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and multiple museums in Scandinavia.
But this month, their fame is set to reach even greater heights. Whitechapel Gallery in London is hosting the artists’ first mid-career retrospective in the UK and has commissioned a new immersive installation exploring the gentrification of London’s East End and the current age of austerity in Britain. Titled This Is How We Bite Our Tongue, the exhibition runs until January 13, 2019. On the other side of the world, Adrian Cheng and his K11 Art Foundation have brought Elmgreen & Dragset’s largest sculpture—an empty full-size swimming pool sitting on its side—to Guangzhou, where it is being exhibited at the K11 Art Mall. Titled Van Gogh’s Ear, it was first shown by the Public Art Fund in 2016 at New York’s Rockefeller Center. “The sculpture,” the artists said at the time, “recalls the 1950s-style pools found in front of some Californian private homes. One can dream of lazy days under the sun while surrounded by all the traffic and business going on at Rockefeller Plaza.”
After the sculpture comes down in Guangzhou later this year, the foundation plans to tour the work to other K11 locations around China in what may well become a yearslong project. With Elmgreen & Dragset’s name on the lips of art lovers from Whitechapel to Wuhan, they’re definitely a duo to watch.
For the latest information about the K11 Art Foundation’s tour of Van Gogh’s Ear by Elmgreen & Dragset, visit k11artfoundation.org
THINKING BIG From top: Van Gogh’s Ear by Elmgreen & Dragset installed at the Rockefeller Center in New York; Ingar Dragset (left) and Michael Elmgreen; Death of a Collector