Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have been working together as an artistic duo for around 20 years. During this time, they have been mainly concerned with challenging the methods of presenting and viewing art. Through installations, sculptures and various architectural feats, they have played with the idea of displacing the familiar, most notably by placing a Prada boutique in a Texan desert. Another recurring theme in their work is the exploration of what lies behind the scenes, particularly in the context of exhibiting art.
Their latest collection, Self-Portraits, shines the spotlight on an unexpected object in the art gallery: namely, the wall label used to inform viewers of the details pertaining to a work of art. Elmgreen and Dragset have selected a number of labels from various exhibitions describing works whose titles resonated with the duo’s personal experience. The labels were re-created using different materials, and while some are presented in their original size, others were enlarged, making it clear that they are indeed the main feature of the exhibition.
The concept of Self-Portraits is intriguing in that it can trigger a variety of thoughts and considerations regarding the insignificant in relation to the valuable. While the idea is undoubtedly original, however, there is not something in it, aesthetically speaking, that is appealing enough to induce viewers to linger, or to make the trip to see the works in person in the first place.
Naturally, conceptual art relies largely on the viewer’s perception, but there needs to be a visual element that catches one’s interest and that makes the viewer’s presence in front of the work necessary. In the case of Self-Portraits, the viewer can form opinions and nurture personal theories before even seeing the displayed labels. There is nothing that a closer look will reveal, and no deeper layers to uncover through sight. If wall labels had the power to move, please or shock a viewer, they would not be placed alongside paintings in museums. The very nature of gallery labels is to be unobtrusive, to be noticed only if sought out.
The strength of Self-Portraits is that it does make one think hard about where art ends and the ordinary begins. There is an eerie feeling to seeing the labels, particularly the smaller ones, describing a painting that is not there. Aside from that, this is an exhibition that relies solely on the visitor’s imagination and interpretative skills.
Elmgreen & Dragset is at Victoria Miro from 13th October until 7th November 2015, for further information visit here.