Elmgreen & Dragset

Elmgreen & Dragset talk about the Danish and Nordic pavilions in Venice

Left: Elmgreen & Dragset, Death of a Collector, 2009, color photograph. Right: Elmgreen & Dragset, Table for Bergman, 2009, wood, paint, Perspex, chairs, glassware, cutlery, handpainted porcelain, 3 x 19 x 7 1/2'. (Photos: Anders Sune Berg)

For the 53rd Venice Biennale, the artistic duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset will represent the Nordic and Danish pavilions. The duo have chosen to conceive of the pavilions as separate “homes,” in which they have installed works by twenty-four different artists. Here, Elmgreen & Dragset talk about the project, titled “The Collectors.”

WE WERE APPROACHED to do the pavilions about a year and a half ago. As an art space, we knew that the Nordic pavilion was problematic, but we also knew we would love to live there. We thought, “Well, let’s make it a home.” The Danish pavilion’s architecture features a mix of late classicism and typical Northern European functionalism; with its weird extension and its clash of styles, it looks like a home that has been in the same family for generations. The Nordic pavilion has a more playful design and could easily be turned into a California Case Study House look-alike. It also has this open structure, in which it would be awkward to make partition walls. It’s so much like a bachelor pad—in this case, the home of a lively gentleman who has been living his hedonistic lifestyle in this gorgeous setting with embedded seating and built-in beds and a transparent bathroom. It is a very exhibitionistic interior, very LA, very Austin Powers, very David Hockney—and very gay.

If the Nordic pavilion is more Hockney, then the Danish pavilion is more Hitchcock. It’s a middle-class family home divided into several rooms, including a library accessible only via a broken staircase. Downstairs, you can sit on couches designed by the Norwegian design company Norway Says. There are also books on art, on collecting, and on architecture—since our fictional family-father was an architect. He likes order. The family doesn’t collect only artworks; they also have a collection of flies—hundreds of ordinary flies pinned up with names under them—and a collection of Weimar porcelain, which we actually borrowed from the Milan dealer Massimo De Carlo. There’s evidence of a lot of small accidents in the house. Rumor has it that the parents got divorced and the teenage daughter left home at a very young age. Outside the pavilion there is a FOR SALE sign, and visitors will get tours by a real estate agent. Hopefully, the sale will add to the cultural budget in Denmark.

Once the tour is finished, the public will be shown the neighboring house, because if you want to buy a house, you need to know your neighbors. That house is inhabited by the Mysterious Mr. B, the naughty bachelor, who not only collected contemporary artworks that promoted his sexual identity, but also swimwear from his ex-lovers. Unfortunately, Mr. B. is now floating facedown in the swimming pool outside the pavilion. Meanwhile, inside there are young men drinking vodka tonics and hanging out in white T-shirts and faded jeans.

Mr. B. has a lot of works by artists whose sexual identity would correspond to his own: There’s Wolfgang Tillmans, Hernan Bas, Henrik Olesen, Elmgreen & Dragset, Terence Koh, Pepe Espaliú, and of course Tom of Finland. Tom of Finland was one of the artists who came to our mind first, because the deal is that when you get the Nordic pavilion you have to include artists from the other Nordic countries. It’s so obvious to use Tom of Finland—he’s a national representative already. One of the things we wanted to do in the Nordic pavilion was to show how different “queer” works can look. At the same time, we didn’t really want to make an exhibition about sexuality—we just wanted to make a sexy show. In that vein, there will be naked black-and-white photos by Tillmans and two of Koh’s re-creations of David (with enlarged penises).

In the Danish pavilion, there’s a bit of Bergmanesque family drama; we suppose there’s a bit of Michael Elmgreen’s family in it as well, unfortunately; he left home fairly early, too. In the pavilion, there are two Stella replicas by Sturtevant. We ourselves are very fond of remakes; we often make copies of other artists’ works and place them in new contexts, so we are big fans of Sturtevant. Klara Liden has made the teenager’s room; with a dog flap out to the free and punky interior, this room indicates the absolute last hope for this family.

One of the things we wanted to stress with our exhibition is that collecting is not only about markets and auctions and investment and who is hot and who is not. Lots of people collect for other reasons—their own beliefs, political views, sexual identity, or because they have a passion for a certain artistic approach. Some people collect because it’s a tradition in their family or because they have a neurotic need for order in their life or out of vanity or to give back something to society. We find it interesting, this belief that objects brought together can constitute an identity.

We ourselves collect some works. We like to support artists who make ephemeral art. We own a rain puddle by the German artist Kirsten Pieroth. We have another project by Tomas Saraceno that we bought years ago at an art fair. It’s a little balloon with a spider living on it, spinning a web against the wall. We have several of these kinds of works, and someday we might make a show with them. The show would only be there for one day—the opening and the exhibition all at once—and then it would disappear. A show that one would have to re-collect.