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Action or Sculpture?
Amanda Ryan

Since the 1980s, Erwin Wurm has created “one-minute sculptures,” for which a participant strikes an unlikely pose with an object while being filmed or photographed. Demonstrating that the performance is more important than the end product, in some videos Wurm attempts impossible balancing acts, failing again and again for the duration of the minute. He explains that, “I want to deal with with the idea of ‘is this an action or is this a sculpture?’ When does one turn into the other?” In his current show at the Bass Museum of Art, Wurm instructs visitors to create their own one-minute sculpture by pulling their sweaters up over their heads and waving their arms as they walk up the ramp to the second floor.

At the top of the landing, an oversized sweater with regular-sized head and arm holes is stretched flat to cover the wall and “warm the place up.” Repurposed vintage furniture bears instructions encouraging visitors to interact with them, specifically, by pouring a stiff drink from the bottles stored inside. Wurm places the furniture on its side, “so that you know something is wrong.” He says, “I want to open up different ways for using these objects.”

When the pieces premiered at the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, intoxicated museumgoers damaged several sculptures, and portions of the exhibition were closed for repairs. As a result, the Bass Museum limited the drinking portion of the piece to the opening, where guests freely imbibed bottles of liquor stashed in the cabinets. A video of the resulting antics is on display for the duration of the exhibition. By converting the museum into a setting for drinking, Wurm draws attention to the social aspects of the art world and alcohol’s role in the artistic process—each piece is named after an alcoholic writer or artist.

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Beyond the drinking sculptures, monolithic foam-acrylic pieces resembling body parts tower over the room like fragmens from an ancient, crumbling monument. These are pieces of Wurm’s Fat House, which was previously installed in several locations before being disassembled. The grey slabs walk the line between flesh and concrete, embodying the ways we define ourselves through our dwellings and seek protection from the world within their confines.

The presence of the Fat House is a key to the entire show—Wurm has described it as his first exhibition to focus completely on domestic spaces. Nearby are hoodies cast in bronze and sweaters stretched into odd positions by wooden frames. Wurm says that, “the clothing pieces are related to the body and the skin. It is our our second skin. It protects us, and yet when we are not wearing it, it has no form.” The clothing protects and defines much in the way that the home does—these are methods for creating comfortable spaces for ourselves. The effectiveness of our collective efforts is for the viewer to decide.

Erwin Wurm: Beauty Business is open through March 4 at the Bass Museum, Miami. It subsequently runs April through August 2011 at Dallas Contemporary, Texas.