Elmgreen and Dragset fuel their creativity with croissants in the studio and when all else fails, they hit the bar


After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions, the dynamic Scandinavian artist duo known as Elmgreen & Dragset are relishing the opportunity to travel internationally once again. And judging by their current plans, the two have been extraordinarily prolific over the past year and a half.

In September, the artists were present at Art Basel in Switzerland, where their outdoor art installation on Messeplatz caused a sensation. The foreigners (2020) featured an old model Mercedes-Benz stationary wagon, white with Russian license plates, which visitors strolled towards before gazing curiously out of the windows at two lifelike figures sleeping and sleeping in their car in the middle of ribbon packaging, labels, installation tools and various empty bags of crisps and snacks. The story behind the artwork is that of two cash-strapped art managers who travel to the fair to work but have to sleep in their cars – as much an ode to love as it is to the hard work of bringing it to life. staging and organizing a show as an art. fair, according to the artists.

Elmgreen & Dragset, The Painter, Fig. 1, (2021). Photo: Elmar Vestner

Working together since 1995, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset are sought after for their sculptural installations, which often use fictional characters to tell a story. Last week they presented their new exhibition at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea, their first since joining the gallery last year. The title of the show, “The nervous system, ”Is a sneaky reference to the widespread fear and uncertainty experienced by many during the lockdown.

Pace describes the show, which takes up the entire first floor of the 25th Street space, as “a surreal representation of a dysfunctional house within the gallery walls. In this staging, aA shirtless old man slumbers in a wheelchair, not far from a marble fireplace engraved with capital letters: “The Oracles Are Gone And Lost Are The Gods.” The artists made it clear that the works were subject to interpretation: “Is the whole scene real or just in this man’s head?” Elmgreen asks with a cheerful smile.

Beyond the walls of the fake house, a bright orange tennis court is visible through a set of windows. This is probably right after a match is over – the losing player is lying face down on one side of the pitch, while on the other side, the winner stands with his back turned, holding a huge trophy cup ( image in progress below) but with a brooding pose that barely suggests celebration.

The couple normally work from their studio in Berlin, but Pace’s sprawling spectacle required site-specific work in New York City. We met the artists while they were preparing their installation.

Studio Elmgreen & Dragset

Photo: Studio Elmgreen & Dragset.

What are the most essential items in your studio and why?

Along 11 and a half feet Less table by Jean Nouvel in our shared kitchen. Around this, we come together for discussions, sketches, presentations, meetings, models, meals, drinks… “Less” is more, for sure!

What is the studio task on your schedule tomorrow that you are looking forward to the most?

We test the installation of all our works in the workshop, for example when we return from a foundry or one of the lacquers with which we work. It’s always exciting to see the different pieces come together. We also like to work on new prints. We designed the catalog for the upcoming exhibition in-house, with our graphic designer Anja Schiller, who has been with us for 10 years. She is ready to present the first model to us.

However, a significant part of our studio business has temporarily moved to Pace Gallery in New York City, where we are setting up our exhibition (which opened on November 9). We’re in the process of rebuilding their space on the ground floor, so we’re both and part of our studio team here, reconfiguring the interior features of the gallery and unboxing all the artwork.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Bogdan (2020).  Photo by Roman März.  Image courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Bogdan (2020). Photo by Roman März. Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.

What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

Our work is based on dialogue, on communication, so we don’t really need music. But if we work very late, we could put on some music. The Berlin studio has really crazy acoustics since the ceiling height is over 46 feet.

What trait do you admire most in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?

Works capable of surprising us and going beyond the normal mechanisms of perception always remain in our minds. Sometimes you experience a work where the way you read or decode the visual message has to be totally reassessed. You will always remember those moments. “Contempt ”is a difficult word, but we don’t both like art that tries too hard to look like art.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Kev (2020).  Photo by Roman März.  Image courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Kev (2020). Photo by Roman März. Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.

What snack could your studio not function without?

Our studio manager, Margo Lauras, is French and smelled all the best bakeries in Berlin. There are also amazing croissants in this city. And when you’re in Denmark, you stock up on liquorice coated with chocolate. In addition to snacks, we have lunch every day in the studio. We have a cook who comes to prepare healthy food for us. It’s important to take a break together and talk about things other than production issues. Normally we also have yoga once a week. But of course, these things were interrupted by the pandemic for a while. It is good to find something close to normal.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

There are too many to single out a few.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get out of it?

Read, relax, go for a walk or go out for a drink, ha, ha. Sometimes our works are born in bars.

Installation view Elmgreen & Dragset "The nervous system" at the Pace Gallery.  Photo by Eileen Kinsella

Installation view, Elmgreen and Dragset, “The Nervous System”, at the Pace Gallery. Photo: Eileen Kinsella.

What is the last exhibition that you saw (virtual or not) that marked you?

The collective exhibition “Information (Today)” and the solo show by Matthew Angelo Harrison at Kunsthalle Basel in September were both amazing. This institution never lets you down. The Arcimboldo show at Pompidou Metz was also very well organized and staged. The scenography of the exhibition was interesting and its influence on surrealism and contemporary art became very clear. The catalog is also impressive.

The new triennial of museums had quite a few nice artist pieces that we weren’t aware of as well.

If you had to create a moodboard, what would be on it right now?

Our mood board is always our next exhibitions. The titles alone probably say it all: “The Nervous System” in Pace New York; “It’s just a phase”At Kjøpmannsgata Ung Kunst in Trondheim, Norway; and “Useless bodies? ”At Fondazione Prada, Milan, next spring.

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