The monumental exhibition catalogue, Biography, by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset is a lush photobook, depicting the luxerious lives of the duo and their friends as they traverse the art-world. Travels, parties, meetings, exhibition-installment, openings and lounging; by the pool, on the roof-terrace, on the beach. Friends and lovers, assistants and artist colleagues. It’s a seemless life of gay relaxation, never a dull moment, never a problem. There only a few women in the images and absolutely no hetero males. This is life on first class , a hip casual horizon with no sight of society outside of the art world. The artworld depicted as a kind of problemfree zone of gay heterotopia.
Throughout the massive series of photos the sky is always blue and the sun is always shining. This discrete formal editing device ensures a careless lush atmosphere that colors everythings. In a way its brilliant. We are presented with a version a the daily lives of Elmgreen & Dragset, of their creativity and their international network that is always bright and sunny. A version of their artworld , that seems devoid of problems, a kind a utopian paradise, where all their dreams has come true.
At Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen the book is accompagnied by an extensive retrospective exhibition, where a series of representative artworks from their entire career are installed in 3 monumental installations. The various works draws heavíly on especially Duane Hanson and Rober Gober, sampling both content, narrative structures and the formal repertoire in a very straightforward discount remix, that’s been criticised quite severely for its lack of relevant institutional critique.
I myself dismissed Elmgreen & Dragset a long time ago as a kind of depraved art-stars, but I must admit that Biography, the book and the exhibition made a quite strong impression on me. The totality of especially the first 2 installations – the concrete housing block in the entrance hall and the claustrophobic corridor with an array of smaller works scattered around inside – gave a huge emotional impact of heavy depression.
A typical example is the prison-cell, with two bunk beds on top of each other where the upper bed is facing downwards in a frontal confrontation with the lower bed. An devastating portrait of a couple. Caught in a prison of contant confrontation with each other.
Seen as political art – as a kind of social realism in the tradition of Duane Hanson or institutional critique in the vein of early Elmgreen works – the show might be over-simplified and without any political agenda nor political attack as art critic Rune Gade states in his review (Information 19.9.2014). But seen as a kind of self-portrait, as indicated by the title of the show , Biography, and thus seen in correlation with the book it opens up an interesting dichtonomy. A double self-portrait: on one hand the utopian sun-bleached gay art-paradise of the book, on the other hand the claustrophobic depressiveness of the exhibition.
The gay couple pops up again and again in various representations throughout the exhibition, but here there is no sunshine, not even daylight, every window and every door is closed. There is no horison, only an endless sealed off interior. No espcape seems possible.
The relaxed happiness of the photos in the book is counterweighted by an immense depression in the exhibition. Seen as self-portraiture this contradictionary double its both strange and alarming. Furthermore this hedonist split acts as an emblematic report from the highest level of international art. A schizoid community gone astray.
As queer politics the project leaves a couple of large questions looming. Is the international career success of Elmgreen & Dragset – the queer occupation of the artworld so effectively described in the book – a political stance? Does it constitute a difference? Or is it rather, yet another sell-out to the hyper-capitalist values of the cosmopolitan high-class of art-consumerism?
The most humourfull work in the exhibition, the re-cast of the Eckersberg-medal Elmgreen & Dragset received last year from the danish Royal Queen Margrethe might give a hint. The metal contained in the medal is not re-cast as bullets or other weapons to be used by a revolutionairy. It is re-cast as an expensive watch; the super trophy of capitalist-careerism. An elitarian academic medal recast as nouveau riche bling. Here Elmgreen & Dragset reveals a self-ironic distance to their own status as art stars: The suntanned kings of gay bling.
Rune Gade Kritik er forvandlet til tom stil: http://www.information.dk/509994