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Am I a House?
Erwin Wurm's Subversive Thought Sculptures

Carrying Edelbert Köb (Be nice to your curator), 2006
c-print, 127 x 156 cm. Photo: MUMOK/ Beatrix Fiala, © VBK, Wien, 2006

Currently, the Museum for Modern Art in Vienna is hosting the largest retrospective to date of the work of the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm. In the late nineties, Wurm became known worldwide for his One Minute Sculptures. Assisted by the artist's precise directions and using their body and a few simple props, visitors are invited to become the enactors of his sculptures. Since that time, the arsenal of Wurm's works has grown considerably. Maria Morais and Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on big cars, contemplative houses, and obsequious tokens of love for curators.

One Minute Sculptures, 1997
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, © VBK, Wien, 2006

There's a businessman in every guru, if you believe the correspondence between Erwin Wurm's Vienna studio and the assistant to the Indian master Mahesh Abayahani. The letters testify to Erwin Wurm's keen interest in creating a sculpture "through the power of thought alone." Wurm's assistant asked the Indian if he could bend an orange-colored '70s VW bus by means of telekinesis. The answer was as worldly as the question was supernatural. "Madari", the right-hand man of the miracle maker, quickly wrote back that this wouldn't be a problem, but that a few things had to be clarified ahead of time: that his boss insists on flying business class, for instance, and that his fee is $2,000, to be paid up front. As soon as the date for the bus bending was set, everything should be just fine – except for the fact that the electricity should be turned off, of course, and that Erwin Wurm and his friends would have to help concentrate on the telekinesis for it to work.

Telekintetically bent VW-Van, 2006
installation view at Art Unlimited, Basel, © VBK, Wien, 2006

Whether or not Guru Abayahani ever boarded his flight is something we will presumably never learn for sure. One thing is certain, however: a bright orange bus can be seen in Wurm's current exhibition. And it looks like a gigantic version of the spoon that Uri Geller bent in the '70s before an audience of millions with the power of his concentration alone. Wurm's Telekinetically Bent VW Van can only drive in circles now; it is bent nearly 90° in the middle. If you take a closer look at one of the windows, you can find a printout of the above-mentioned E-mail correspondence as well as an alleged portrait of the Indian master of telekinesis.

The artist who swallowed the world, 2006
Installation view, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, Photo: BALTIC/ Colin Davison, Newcastle, © VBK, Wien, 2006

With approximately 400 works including photographs, drawings, films, sculptures, and objects as well as five exhibition stopovers in Aachen, Vienna, Hamburg, St. Gallen, and Lyon, The artist who swallowed the world constitutes a major campaign. And it's the first time that a retrospective presents Erwin Wurm's work in a scope of this kind. At the age of 52, the Styrian-born artist is one of the most successful Austrian artists alive. And ever since the Californian cult band Red Hot Chili Peppers used a whole series of them in their video Can't Stop, his legendary One Minute Sculptures are familiar even to the MTV generation. As a result, some may recall the face of the bass player covered in magic marker, paper clips, and plastic film canisters, or other band members hidden beneath huge cardboard boxes or standing with their arms and legs in yellow plastic buckets.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Videostills "Can't Stop", 2003

What seemed like anarchistic action fun in a pop video were actually the results of clear conceptual premises. Wurm's One Minute Sculptures are based on terse directions: drawings accompanied by brief written instructions inviting anyone who feels like it to enact them, often with the help of various props such as oranges, bottles, articles of clothing, or other everyday objects. Sometimes, however, this requires real acrobatic skill: push-ups are carried out on coffee cups and bodies balanced on tennis balls, or the reader is called upon to simultaneously press dozens of bottles against the wall.

Installation viewt, Taipei Biennale, 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection
Courtesy Galerie Krinzinger, Wien

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