Erwin Wurm, Straight Blue (Substitutes), 2024
Erwin Wurm: Surrogates
Feb 15 – Apr 13, 2024
Thaddaeus Ropac
London, UK

Surrogates, an exhibition of new work by Erwin Wurm, embodies the Austrian artist’s characteristically explorative approach to the concept of sculpture. Disrupting traditional distinctions between subject and object, the human and the non-human, spectator and participant, the exhibition renders the familiar unfamiliar through a playful treatment of the sculptural principles of ‘two- and three-dimensionality, mass, volume, skin and surface, movement and time.’

On view concurrently with Wurm’s major institutional survey at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, the exhibition presents painted metal and epoxy resin sculptures alongside key developments in his iconic One Minute Sculptures.

Clothing has been a key source of inspiration for the artist since the late 1980s. ‘Clothes are our second skin, a shell that separates our bodies from the outside world,’ he says. Inspired by his observation that classical bronze sculptures are hollow, Wurm plays with ideas of volume to create works from thin, skin-like membranes of painted aluminium, as represented by the disembodied clothed figures of his Substitutes series.

First conceived in 2022, the hollow, deflated clothes of the Substitutes separate the hidden internal volume of the sculpture from the external space in which they stand. The garments, pose and (often monochromatic) colour palette of each sculpture highlight the particular social values we might ascribe to how an individual presents themselves. The sculptures become ‘substitutes’ or ‘surrogates’ for the human body, whose volume, mass and form are defined by the second skin of the aluminium clothes.

For Wurm, the idea of substitution stands as a form of social commentary that cuts through his humorous treatment of the objects of daily life. Rendering the body absent, he calls attention to the role of the individual in rapidly changing social, political and environmental conditions, particularly the potential absence of humanity in post-anthropocentric futures. In the exhibition, the absurd becomes a tool through which he asks us to ‘look at the world from a different perspective’ and take ‘paradoxical angles’ as we imagine alternative ways of being.

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