Visual Arts Review: How to Be a Fat, Lazy, Work of Art — Erwin Wurm

By Adrienne LaFrance

BOSTON, Mass.— Feeling too productive? Not procrastinating enough? Austrian artist Erwin Wurm has the answer. Why not stay in your pajamas all day? You could also fantasize about nihilism, be indifferent about everything, or even take a nap on the office toilet.

These are just some of the activities depicted in Wurm’s series of photos titled, appropriately, “Instructions for Idleness” (2001), on display at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.

The exhibit is called I Love My Time, I Don’t Like My Time: Recent Work by Erwin Wurm and focuses largely on depicting normal– even mundane– people or aspects of life in surprising, unnatural and outlandish ways.

Another and even more absurd series of photos on display is titled “How to be Politically Incorrect” (2002-2003), and depicts such behaviors as that of a man sticking his head down a woman’s sweater at a restaurant. The woman appears unfazed, even bored.

Wurm uses a variety of mediums including photography, film, animation and sculpture, to create original art that engages with a blend of humor, mischief, and philosophy. The finished product proffers a deadpan, offbeat brand of humor that satirizes modern life and contemporary art. Most notably, Wurm lampoons the elitism associated with the art world — one of his goals is to remind us that art is for everyone.

Wurm even encourages performance art from his viewers, who can become “one-minute sculptures” by combining their bodies with found objects — stick a banana in your ear; treat the sleeves of a sweater as if they were pant legs; put a stapler in your mouth, etc.

Wurm challenges viewers to find art all around them; his work asks the eternal questions: What is art? Does simply making a goofy face turn you into art? How about sticking French fries between your toes?

One of the most impressive portions of the exhibit is “Fat House,” an enormous, bulbous house (assembled in 18 pieces) that art-goers can enter (at the risk of fearing you might be absorbed into the marshmallowy exterior) to see a digital version of the house lamenting in identity crisis (“Am I a house? Am I art?”). There is also a fat car, who is equally confused (and passionately expresses its concerns in a video accompanying the sculpture), but seemingly more so about the state of the world than its place in it.

Wurm provides an energized look at the art world through everyday eyes, reminding us that art is all around, and that, in many cases, it merely takes an open mind and sense of humor to find it.

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