Lehmann Maupin is pleased to announce Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order, an exhibition of new One Minute Sculptures by Erwin Wurm. This year marks the 20th anniversary of these audience-activated sculptures, which will also be the focus of Wurm’s installation for the Austrian pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennial. Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures have influenced a generation of artists by redefining what a sculpture is and how the public engages with the medium.
The basic premise of a One Minute Sculpture remains uniform. For each work, using a drawing or specific text, Wurm directs participants to pose with an object, which have ranged from cleaning products and sneakers to furniture and fruit. The viewer enacts the proposed sculpture on a low plinth, manipulating their body and the predetermined prop in a pose held for a short time. Wurm reiterates that the success of these ephemeral pieces is determined by the exactness with which the directions are executed, stating, “The One Minute Sculptures only come into existence if the public follows precisely the instructions of the artist and free will has a low priority.”
For the One Minute Sculptures featured in this exhibition, Wurm employs mid-century modern furniture as props. Participants will navigate these iconic 20th-century furnishing designs, often to unusual effect. By asking for the audience’s participation in a way that could make them feel uncomfortable, One Minute Sculptures offer a moment of visceral introspection as a means of provoking an examination of one’s own insecurities, thus turning them into subversive “thinking sculptures.” Much of Wurm’s work, though disturbing, offers an underlying social critique of contemporary culture, particularly in response to the capitalist influences and resulting societal pressures that the artist sees as contrary to our internal ideals.
The necessity for explicit mimicry of Wurm’s directives is reflected in the artist’s title choice, Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order, evoking the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Considered a pioneer of the Enlightenment era, Spinoza’s magnum opus, Ethics (1677), premised the uncertainty of free will. Wurm suggests contemporary scientific manifestations of Spinoza’s thoughts could be applied to the common theory among neuroscientists that our thoughts, judgments, and subsequent actions are strongly influenced by predeterminations and conditioning.
Throughout the Renaissance, an ongoing debate about the specific virtues of sculpture, painting, and poetry aligned sculpture with the physical entity it summons into being, a perception that dates back to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 AD). One Minute Sculptures reconsider this early interpretation of sculpture as a stand-in for the human form by using an actual human body as a replacement for its representation in durable form. By reducing the duration of the piece to a single minute, Wurm questions the timelessness often attributed to sculpture. The resulting works thus collapse the distinction between sculpture and other art mediums, such as painting and poetry, into a complete corporal, temporal, and narrative form.
In addition to the One Minute Sculptures, Wurm will present five new sculptural works in cast bronze and mixed media, including Equitable (2016) and Flat Iron (2016), recreations of two iconic New York buildings that appear to be melting, and Bad Thoughts (2016), created by casting deformed bags of clay. These works are reminiscent of his Fat House (2003) and Fat Car (2001-present) series, where he gave swollen anatomical form to these structures. Together with One Minute Sculptures, this latest body of work reasserts Wurm’s continued engagement with everyday objects and familiar forms as a catalyst for challenging and confounding perceptions of space, volume, form, and materiality.
Lehmann Maupin (press release)