Since the late 1980s Austrian artist Erwin Wurm has been intent on widening the traditional notion of sculpture. He became internationally known in the early 1990s with his “One Minute Sculptures.” Behavioral instructions from the artist—some written, some illustrated—turn exhibition goers into ephemeral sculptures, as they briefly adopt strange bodily positions exactly as described by Wurm; his descriptions often involve the use of ordinary objects, such as chairs or knitted sweaters. The whole procedure is documented in photographs or videos.
Absurdity and comedy play an important part in Wurm’s art, and the humor in his works is bizarre, often veering into satire. He himself uses humor as “a weapon.” Even issues such as the transience of artistic activity, the roles ascribed to the artist and to the recipient / actor, the unity of work and action are raised with playful ease and nonchalant spontaneity.
There are eight works on paper by Wurm in the Baloise collection, all done on a standard writing-pad format using pencil and fineliner or ink. They are sketch-like images showing people interacting with objects, or human body parts interacting with mechanical components. In some cases written notes explain what is happening. Handwritten pointers such as “2 Vasen 20 Secunden” (2 vases 20 seconds) and “13 Pullover übereinander” (13 pullovers on top of each other) align these drawings with Wurm’s “One Minute Sculptures:” a man wearing only a pair of shorts balances a flower-filled vase on each of his outstretched arms. Another is seen pulling his pullover down. His bulky upper body seems strangely bloated and out of proportion with the rest of him—13 (!) pullovers on top of each other cannot go unnoticed. More broadly speaking, clothing as a second skin, as a protective shell, is a key topic in Wurm’s multilayered work, which combines performance, video, photography, drawing, and sculpture. The process of a shape being filled out, weight gain, and growth also play a part in Wurm’s so-called Fat sculptures, which show cars or single-family homes in a “fattened,” distended state. At the same time, Wurm consistently counters interpretations of his work as socio-critical with comments such as, “my work is about the drama of the inconsequentiality of existence. Whether one approaches it via philosophy or via a diet, ultimately one only ever draws the short straw.”(1)
(1) Erwin Wurm, in Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Erwin Wurm – Nudelskulpturen, 46, November 18, 2016, p. 25.
Further works by Erwin Wurm in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0952, Man with Frisbee (One Minute Sculpture), 2001, Pencil on paper, 30 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0954, Morning Walk (One Minute Sculpture), 2001, Pencil and fineliner on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0955, Be Stairs for Someone Else (One Minute Sculpture), 2001, Pencil and fineliner on paper, 29.5 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0970, 2 Vasen 20 Secunden (One Minute Sculpture), 1996, India ink on paper, 28 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0971, Kugelschreiber, Hand (One Minute Sculpture), 1998, India ink on paper, 30 x 20 cm
Inv. no. 0972, 5 Stäbe (One Minute Sculpture), 1998, India ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm