Venice Preview: Elmgreen & Dragset

Elmgreen & Dragset


Artists will soon be anxiously scrambling for the attention of the few still-solvent collectors roaming the pavilions at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Scandinavian art duo of Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset have a solution for that problem: They have created collectors of their own. “The Collectors,” is the title of Elmgreen & Dragest’s Danish and Nordic Pavilions, which will be decorated with work by twenty-four artists and art teams including Maurizio Cattelan, Tom of Finland, Han & Him, Laura Horelli, William E. Jones, Terence Koh, Klara Lidén, Jonathan Monk, Nico Muhly, Norway Says, Nina Saunders, Wolfgang Tillmansâ??and their own highly coveted work.  The art is arranged in a Twenty-First Century version of New York City’s Frick Museum, where the works are assembled in interiors alongside high end design. Visitors are encouraged to consider themselves “guests” who have been invited to view the private collection of a fictional family of collectors residing in the Danish pavilion and their sexually predatory neighbor, “Mr. B” who lives in the Nordic pavilion. From time to time, a guide will pose as a real estate agent and deliver a sales speech peppered with scandalous stories from the sordid histories of the supposed families.

Enlisting an all-star cast for theatrical hi-jinks to take the air out of art-world pretension is the norm for Elmgreen and Dragset. During last year’s Frieze, Elmgreen and Dragset caused a sensation at the Old Vic when they staged “Drama Queens,” one of their notorious bite-size surveys of Twentieth Century art history with six remote-controlled fiberglass versions of iconic sculpture enlivened by the voices of leading stage stars. Included in the canon-camp Toy Story was Barbara Hepworth’s “Elegy III” re-envisioned as a chain-smoking posh English matron chatting with the pedantic American spirit of Sol LeWitt’s Four Cubes and Jeff Koon’s “Rabbit” (played by Kevin Spacey) and complaining, “I need to see my banker, my gallerist, my investment manager and my art editor. I need to see my AA sponsor. And I need to see my agent. There’s some sponsorship thing we’re trying to figure out. They want to fill me with helium and float me over Beijing.”

“The Collectors” is the most talked-about pavilion leading up to Venice. Here we discuss how collecting, more than ever, raises eyebrows:

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN: What is the story of “The Collectors”? What kind of people are they?

ELMGREEN AND DRAGSET: “The Collectors” is an exhibition spanning over two venues in this upcoming edition of the Venice Biennale. The collectors are neighbours. Since we were appointed to do something in both the Danish and in the neighbouring Nordic pavilion, we invented these fictional characters: strange identities who collect contemporary and modern art such as flies, used swim wear and Weimar porcelain, for various obscure reasons. We transformed the Danish pavilion into a spooky family home whereas the Nordic one has been turned into a swanky bachelor’s pad in the style of a Los Angeles case study house. The collector in the Nordic pavilion, the Mysterious Mr. B., lived a promiscuous life and ended up with his face down in the outdoor swimming pool while the family on the other side just moved out after a divorce and some dramas worthy of an Ingmar Bergman movie.

AFH: Are your imaginary collectors people who buy for love or for investment?

E&D: We have been more interested in the psychology behind the act of collecting. The family collects art and insects because they need order and some kind of system in their miserable lives. Mister B. is collecting because he wants to promote his own sexual identity, and his passion for the arts is closely linked to his sex drive.



AFH: Were you selecting the art on view while in character or did you decide on the fictional characters of “the collectors” from the character clues in the work you selected?

E&D: The show has been developed in a process somewhere between dialogue and dictatorship, yes.

AFH: Has your view of your own work changed when you’ve met your collectors or seen your work in their homes?

E&D: We are the kind of artists who only meet a few of the people who purchase our works. Our galleries don’t think it is safe to introduce too many of them to us since we are not so well behaved.

AFH: Are the artists in the show mostly people whose work you would want to own?

E&D: Yesâ??if we could afford it.

AFH: Why have you decided to create this piece for a pavilion and not a show, where the work would really be for sale?

E&D: We liked the idea of turning these public art spaces into some fictional private homes. The Giardiniâ??the area of the Biennaelâ??is like a little artificial village where every pavilion tries to grow the biggest pumpkin, isn’t it?

AFH: When you decided to include “Mr. B.’s collection of ex-lovers’ used swimwear,” were you implying that collectors view acquiring artists’ work almost like erotic conquests?

E&D: There are as many reasons for collecting, as there are collectors. With this show we don’t intend to state the “truth” of collectors’ minds or to deliver a scientific report on the topic. We simply had the desire to tell the story about two eccentric collectors.

AFH: Are the fictional collectors you’ve invented people who you would want to collect your art?

E&D: We like to know that there are people who buy our stuff for reasons that we could never have imagined.

AFH: Do you two collect other artists’ work?

E&D: We like to support artists who do ephemeral works. It also solves the problem of storage.


The Nordic Pavilion

Vibeke Sl yngstad The Nordic Pavilion I, 2009 Courtesy of Galleri MGM, Oslo
The Nordic Pavilion II, 2009 Courtesy of Galleri MGM, Oslo

Terence Koh, David, David It’s a Long Cold Winter, Let’s Rest Forever till We Fall Asleep, 2007
Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin, Los Angeles

Pepe Espal iú, Carrying VI, 1992, Courtesy of Pepe Cobo y cía, Madrid, and Colección Helga de Alvear, Madrid


The Nordic Pavilion

Hernan Bas, The act of pollination, 2009, Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Vibeke Sl yngstad, The Nordic Pavilion I, 2009, Courtesy of Galleri MGM, Oslo

Terence Koh, David, David Itâ??s a Long Cold Winter Letâ??s Rest Forever till We Fall Asleep, 2007, Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin Los Angeles

Pepe Espal iú, Carrying VI, 1992, Courtesy of Pepe Cobo y cía, Madrid, and Colección Helga de Alvear, Madrid

Han & Him, Butterflies, 2009. Courtesy of the artists