The Victoria Miro Gallery has announced a brand new exhibition for Autumn of the work of the Scandinavian artists, Elmgreen & Dragset. It will be their second solo exhibition with the gallery.
Titled, Harvest it presents two choreographed environments which at first may appear visually and conceptually diverse, but through Elmgreen & Dragset’s own refined systems of logic, they bring to life a multi-layered set of narratives that play upon childhood memories, and question issues linked to our cultural heritage and the institutional through a personally charged perception.
Displayed in the downstairs gallery is a series of new unique monochrome works, the surfaces of which consist of white wall paint carefully removed from prominent museums and public galleries by professional conservators, using techniques employed to restore frescoes and murals. The thin layer of removed white wall paint is then applied onto raw canvas and framed, so that this ordinary, typically valueless and disregarded ‘background’ is transcended and suddenly becomes painting with a new worth and significance. Each bears the name of its former home – such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Serpentine Gallery, London – and when viewed together, the subtle variations in texture, shade of colour and quality of the paint become apparent, indicative of the self-presentation of each institution.
Drawing on the history of the readymade, as well as the legacy of Minimalism (with particular reference to the work of Robert Ryman), the canvases also serve as signifiers of how such institutions figure in art-world consciousness as a locus of desire. The series can be seen as a natural development of Elmgreen & Dragset’s earliest works, exemplified by performances such as Twelve Hours of White Paint/Powerless Structures, Fig. 15 (1997), in which the artists repeatedly painted white an exhibition space over the course of twelve hours, or their witty distortion of the quintessential white cube in works like Dug Down Gallery/Powerless Structures, Fig. 45 (1998) or Suspended Space/Powerless Structures, Fig. 313 (2002).
In the upstairs gallery, and in stark contrast to the clean precision and clarity of the downstairs space, the artists lay out an altogether different setting, one that takes its cue from the rustic interior architecture of the bare-brick and wooden-beamed upper space of Victoria Miro. Here Elmgreen & Dragset present their playful version of a hayloft, replete with strewn hay and works that operate within a lexicon of rural iconography: a bronze hay bale and scarecrow, a sculpture of a young farm boy, abstract paintings derived from lines of timber work in medieval Northern European architecture and traditional German barns, and a timber wall-frame which reads KUNST, amongst others. One clearly sees the references to 1950s abstract formal language, as in Franz Kline’s paintings, but instead of claiming the aesthetics of the concrete or sublime, these works reveal a direct inspiration from humble farmyard imagery.
In this juxtaposition of works, all definitions of ‘culture’ are acknowledged – from the simple lived experience to the institutionalized fine arts. The basic process of growing and cultivating and also the harvest become the central topic. Characteristic of Elmgreen & Dragset’s practice, the exhibition explores both personal and shared cultural identity and memory – and presents them alongside one another, in no hierarchical order.
Based in London and Berlin, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have worked as an artist duo since the mid-1990s. Their winning sculpture for the Fourth Plinth commission, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, is currently on view in London’s Trafalgar Square. Important solo exhibitions have been presented at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum Submarine Wharf, Rotterdam (2011); ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany (2010-2011), MUSAC, León, Spain (2009), Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (2007), Serpentine Gallery, London (2006), MCA Chicago (2005), Tate Modern, London (2004), and Kunsthalle Zurich (2001). In 2009, Elmgreen & Dragset were awarded Special Mention at the Venice Biennale for The Collectors, their highly elaborate exhibition for the Danish and Nordic Pavilions.
21 Sep – 10 Nov 2012 Victoria Miro Gallery London