Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Changing Subjects” at The FLAG Art Foundation
Since the early 1990s, Elmgreen & Dragset have been exploring and exploiting (with a wink and a nod) the ironies and beliefs behind the relationship between art, design, and human expression. On view until December 17 at The FLAG Art Foundation is “Changing Subjects” by the duo—a solo exhibition on the ninth and tenth floors, including a site-specific sculpture on its outdoor terrace.
Themes of identity, sexuality, and mortality are explored in new and past works—with the oldest creations dating back to 1998—from the artists’ 20-year collaboration. Select pieces investigate the multiple meanings of “subject” as a noun. On the ninth floor is a wax sculpture of a baby in a carrycot beneath an ATM machine, Modern Moses (2006)—a contemporary reference to the biblical tale.
“People were leaving their kids in front of churches for other people to pick them up if they couldn’t take care of them, but today, it might be the ATM instead. Our own little church,” said Elmgreen & Dragset.
Around the corner is The Experiment (2012), a young boy standing in his underwear in front of a mirror, wearing his mother’s heels and lipstick. Behind him, lining the wall, is Untitled (Morgue) (2011), an eerie replica of a morgue with a silicon male figure jutting out of one of the body encasements. Then there is Side Effects (2015), a full-floor installation of hand-blown glass vases filled with the pastel-colored pigments that are used to coat HIV medicines—a reference to the effects of the life-saving medication and the decrease in media attention regardless of medical advances.
On the bottom floor is Powerless Structures, Fig. 19 (1998), where a pair of Calvin Klein underwear sits inside Levi’s 501 jeans, as if someone had just dropped their trousers; Go Go Go! (2005), a stainless steel platform and pole with light bulbs, controls, and a mop, bucket, and floor sign; and Human Scale (2016), made of eight rulers in brushed anodized aluminum. These are “unspectacular moments of life, memories, or small things that can become important” according to the artists. “That certain point of time can be quite monumental in your life. We started a collaboration, which has been the past 20 years, on accident. I mean, we met for instance at a gay club and it turned out we lived in the same building and we didn’t know each other before…We weren’t really searching for an artistic teammate, but it happened,” they said.
The outside installation, overlooking the Hudson River, may best encapsulate “Changing Subjects.” This 2016 sculpture of a man on a lifeguard chair looking through binoculars, made in mirror-polished stainless steel, reflects and distorts its surroundings, shifting the perspective of what we really see. “He’s not going to save you,” Elmgreen & Dragset told us.