Last week marked the opening of Narrow Mist, Austrian artist Erwin Wurms first solo show at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
(UCCA) in Beijing. A celebrated creator of irreverent and sometimes twisted works of sculpture, Erwin Wurm employs gentle humor, interactivity and the natural curiosity of his audience to get us to think more deeply about the foibles of our modern world.
Sculptures inspired by childhood houses, fashion fetishes and stuff you can find in Beijing
Narrow Mist is a unique and interactive exhibition showcasing the vast creative range of Erwin Wurms sculpture.
In the UCCA nave, we encounter Narrow House, modeled after the home the artist grew up in. There are narrow chairs and tables, narrow bookshelves lined with narrow books, a narrow sofa and narrow rooms covered with decidedly 1970s-style wallpaper. Is this elongated structure charmingly slender, disturbingly tight or claustrophobically close? Visitors will have the chance to walk through Narrow House and decide for themselves.
In the adjacent exhibition hall, we will be displaying Erwin Wurms standing box sculptures. Dressed in sweaters, suits and prêt-a-porter, these boxy figures seem a lot like us, almost human, if only they werent so
In the same space, we present some of Erwin Wurms one minute sculptures, as well as photographic evidence of the most-beloved one minute sculptures from the past. In this particular series, inspired by things found in Beijing, visitors will encounter familiar everyday items being deployed in unusual ways. Through written or drawn instructions from the artist, visitors can interact with the items to become sculptures themselves, and take a photograph to preserve the sculptural moment forever.
Using humor to get beneath the surface of things
An artist who uses humor and satire to subvert our expectations and assumptions, Erwin Wurm has tackled such themes as art and commerce, fame and fashion, obesity and anorexia, greed and poverty, even political scandal and human rights. His past works give some indication of just how far he is willing to stretch the definition of sculpture in order to reshape the contours of our world: he has grafted human obesity onto everyday objects to create a series of fat cars and houses; asked passerby to lift their skirts, take off their trousers, lie on beds of fruit or stick pencils in their noses and ears to make one-minute sculptures; carried the curator of a museum around in his arms in a piece entitled Be Nice to Your Curator; and created houses that are fat, narrow, upside-down, drunk or inclined to attack other buildings.
With subversive playfulness and an appreciation of human curiosity, Erwin Wurm draws people into his art and makes them part of the creative process."I want to address serious matters, but in a light way. I want to reach more than just an elite circle of insiders, the artist says. If you approach things with a sense of humor, people immediately assume you're not to be taken seriously. But I think truths about society and human existence can be approached in different ways. You don't always have to be deadly serious. Sarcasm and humor can help you see things in a lighter vein."
In his preface to Narrow Mist, UCCA Director Jérôme Sans gives his assessment of this tremendously popular European artist: Erwin Wurm reinvents the vocabulary of sculpture and turns the lexiconand occasionally his audienceon its head. Using simple materials, everyday objects, wry wit and written instructions that encourage people to interact with his sculptures, Erwin Wurm makes spectators into active participants and turns them into living, breathing works of art.
Erwin Wurm was born in 1954 in Bruck an der Mur, Austria. He currently lives and works in Vienna, Austria.
Since the 1980s, Erwin Wurm has been expanding the concept of sculpture and delving into the zeitgeist to approach subjects too often dealt with in a serious manner. He integrates architecture, video, found objects, photography and the museum-goer into his absurdist and refreshingly unique sculptural practice. He has held solo shows around the world, including most recently the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich; the Essl Museum, Vienna; the Kunstmuseum, Bonn; the MUMOK, Vienna; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati; and the Drawing Center, New York. He has participated in group shows in China at the China Millennium Art Museum (2005) and at the Shanghai Art Museum (2001). This is his first solo show in China.