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Wear Me Out: the Middelheim Museum Presents the Art of Austrian Artist Erwin Wurm
Erwin Wurm - Walter van Beirendonck, © Jesse Willems.

ANTWERP.- From 29 May to 25 September 2011, the Middelheim Museum is a playground for contemporary artist Erwin Wurm. The Austrian artist placed 20 works among the pieces of the permanent collection. He is creating two new pieces for the Braem Pavilion, which combine to create a single installation piece. The WEAR ME OUT exhibition is a true voyage of discovery through the open-air museum, along which the visitor can wonder at Wurm’s expressive art, while at the same time becoming a part of it. Erwin Wurm has invited Antwerp fashion designer, Walter Van Beirendonck, to collaborate for the occasion.

This summer, the Middelheim Museum is a playground for the Austrian contemporary artist Erwin Wurm (b. 1954, lives and works in Vienna and Limberg, Austria). From 29 May to 25 September, a selection of 20 pieces, some on loan from international collections and others new, will guide the visitor through the sculpture park as well as the wonderful artistic world of Wurm. The WEAR ME OUT Summer exhibition highlights several of the themes that run through the work of this remarkable artist.

Although Wurm claims that he became a sculptor almost by chance, he is completely at home in the genre. But in no way can his work be called classical. The forms and the materials he chooses always yield surprising results that both examine and push the boundaries of sculpture. His sculptures vary from extremely permanent to extremely transient. Balanced between the classical tenets of sculpture (volume, hollowing out, balance, figuration, abstraction, etc.) and a contemporary interpretation of these, Wurm’s versatile, humorous and anything-but-traditional art dovetails perfectly with the modern and contemporary sculptures at the Middelheim Museum.

In bronze or in flesh and blood?
Wurm completely releases sculpture from its classical shackles. Sculptures still often carry the connotation of “forever”. Wurm raises a question about this connotation, by giving a body and the depiction thereof the same status. Not only does he use durable materials in his sculptures, he uses the human body too. Bronze, polystyrene and polyester, versus flesh and blood. Some fine examples of this are the infamous “One Minute Sculptures”.

The human body is - with the exception of the material - also the subject of many of Wurm’s artworks. It provides the basis for an interplay of scale and volume, form and formlessness - as in a piece like Big Gulp (2009 - 175 x 155 x 200 cm) or Big Psycho 10 (2011 - 250 x 220 x 170 cm).

Wurm is also fascinated by the potential sculptural qualities of a psychological mood. Body posture can say something about whether a person is excited or dispirited, passive or assertive, etc. Wurm often renders the outward characteristics of mood very literally in his work. Examples include works such as Fountain for Arthur Rimbaud (2007 - 30 x 60 x 104 cm) or Hypnosis (2008 - 78 x 89 x 40 cm). He has even translated moods such as jealousy and fear into unique forms.

Wurm also ascribes these human characteristics to non-living, everyday things such as a house - Fat House (2003 - 540 x 1000 x 700 cm) - or a boat - Misconceivable (2010 - 1000 x 710 x 226 cm).

All the colours of the rainbow or black & white?
Colour is an important aspect in this artist’s work. Wurm’s colourful sculptures have a powerful pull for the viewer. But there is a dark side behind the amusing forms and vivid colours. Underneath it all, Wurm’s work makes reference to paralysing doubt, vanity, laziness, disinterest, impatience, and so on. It brings the visitor face-to-face with recognisable situations that are both painful and funny.

It is precisely because Wurm’s work so often makes use of everyday recognisable designs and situations from our own experience that it creeps under the skin. The attentive viewer sees Wurm’s work in the streets, in everyday life: amid cars, furniture, old clothes, houses, comics, household goods and handknitted sweaters, and on and on. Wurm’s work is everywhere.

Everything is art, everyone an artist
Wurm makes a pact with the viewer. A visitor to one of Wurm’s exhibitions is far from a passive onlooker, but gets the chance to take part, to become a part of the artwork himself, to join in with it. If sculpture is all about volume and space, then anyone can be a sculptor, simply by adding or removing clothing and weight.

In the Middelheim Museum, Wurm invites the visitor to get involved with art himself, to become an artwork himself in the shape of a “One Minute Sculpture”, or to take part in the interactive piece Big Sweater (2010- 92 x 294 x 360 cm)… artworks that exist only as long as they are performed. During the summer months, the instructional drawings for One Minute Sculptures are also on display for the public on the Antwerp trams run by De Lijn.

The Braem Pavilion in a new coat
Clothing plays an important role in Wurm’s work, for both its texture and form. This is part of Wurm’s exploration of the boundaries of the human body, as a way of transforming objects.

It is also a way form him to introduce into art anonymous, everyday objects from our immediate environment, as he also does with furniture, houses, cars, buckets, plastic bottles, sandwiches, etc.

He has seized the opportunity to collaborate with fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck in the fashion city of Antwerp. Van Beirendonck, like Wurm, happily experiments with volume, colour, layers and (restricted) freedom of movement.

The collaboration between the two artists in the Middelheim Museum takes place in the Braem Pavilion, and is part of the total installation that Wurm is developing there. Within the “Performative Sculptures” group that Wurm is showing, particular attention is paid to the living sculptures that the two artists created together.

A completely new series of “Möbeln”, pieces in which the artist turns second-hand furniture into a new furniture piece, sets the stage for “Performative Sculptures”. On every day of the exhibition, someone takes on - in line with the artist’s instructions - the guise of a sculpture, around, in or on the artworks. These “Performative Sculptures” will be carried out by a group on the Museum Night, 6 August, and on the final night, 25 September.

Here, too, visitors are encouraged to interact by allowing their movements and behaviour to be defined by the artist and his furniture sculptures. Wurm is also creating a third, completely new artwork in the Braem Pavilion using colourful knitting. The artist is wrapping the entire ceiling of the pavilion in a gigantic “sweater”.

Word pictures
Text has a special place in the artist’s oeuvre. The titles of his works serve as a catalyst in allowing the visitor to interpret the pieces. For Wurm, words are also a very direct way of communicating with his audience, giving them instructions or clarifying his intentions or viewpoints. Text often has a life of its own.

There is a new artist book, by the publisher Hatje Cantz, to accompany the summer exhibition at the Middelheim Museum. The publication focuses on the new works of art, such as those in the Braem Pavilion.

The GEM, a museum of contemporary art in The Hague, is also exhibiting Erwin Wurm’s artwork from 25 June to 18 September. The two exhibitions are connected, and each highlights a different aspect of the artist’s rich oeuvre.

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