Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, 1 hr. 33 mins/2 hrs. 22 mins (2016), via Art Observed
The fruit of a twenty-year collaboration, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s “Changing Subjects” explores themes of existentialism and alienation through sculpture. On view at The FLAG Art Foundation, the exhibition features seemingly personal, routine scenarios. However, through both material and space, it removes these intimate moments from their context. The works as a whole therefore force the viewer to see the art from an altered perspective, demanding a deeper contemplation of commonplace human experiences.
The exhibition resembles the journey through life, uncanny in its naked stillness. Opening with Modern Moses, a wax sculpture of a baby in a stroller basket beneath an ATM, the show immediately suggests a theme of abandonment. Further, in both its name and its subject matter, the work draws a connection between contemporary society and absence.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Modern Moses (2006), via Art Observed
The progression of life is continued in an adjacent room, featuring a wax statue of a young boy trying on lipstick and high heels in from of a mirror. The privacy of this moment is emphasized by the statues placement in the room, causing the viewer to come suddenly upon the boy. Much like the presence of the baby, the introspective figure in The Experiment is startling, as if imparting the anxiety and excitement of youthful exploration upon the viewer.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, The Experiment (2012), via Art Observed
This oddity is furthered by the perspective shift that occur as the viewer moves throughout the space. At various angles, the mirror of The Experiment features not only the boy but also the work behind it, a life-size display of a man being placed into a steel cabinet. The audience is also on view in the mirror, adding yet another subject to the piece. Watching, a site-specific statue, suggests a similar inversion. Located on the 9th floor balcony, a steel man peers out over the Hudson River, giving art the role of the spectator. The work of Elmgreen and Dragset shifts the role of subject from art to viewer to landscape, adding dimensions to the traditional gallery experience.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Watching (2016), via Art Observed
This use of space, again, removes and implicates the viewer in the neglect of the subjects in the exhibit. They are reflected in the stainless steel of the figures, both a part of them and from them. The steel’s sterility, further, subtly suggests the modern desolation that is evident in the subjects of the exhibit. Given the important interplay of the figures depicted and their placement, the works, like much of the past work of Elmgreen and Dragset, display an interest in design and in architecture through art.
The second level of the exhibition offers a more pointed cultural critique of the theme of abandonment. Large, hand-blown glass vases cover almost the entirety of the floor. Their pastel colors allude to their interiors, as each holds the artificial exteriors used to coat the newest forms of HIV medication. The material used is counterintuitive to its meaning, causing the viewer to reflect on the fatal phenomenon. Fragile and deceivingly sweet, “Side Effects” speaks to the psychological repercussions of the virus and of the medication.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Side Effect (2015), via Art Observed
In questioning both institutions and more abstract cultural practices, “Changing Subjects” explores a several aspects of one theme. The beauty and genius of Elmgreen and Dragset is not only in their art but its presentation, imperceptibly effecting the way we experience art. In the quiet longing, the sterile discomfort of the exhibition, the viewers is forced to confront not only the veils that have been lifted, but also the reasons for which we would rather leave them in place.
The Flag Art Foundation – Exhibition Site