Pondering power via a famed artistic duo

The concept of Powerless Structures comes from the artists’ fascination with the writings of French philosopher Michel Foucault.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s 2016 flagship exhibition, “Powerless Structures” (photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s 2016 flagship exhibition, “Powerless Structures”
(photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s 2016 flagship exhibition, “Powerless Structures,” is the first exhibition in Israel of internationally acclaimed artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset.
The two artists, Michael Elmgreen of Copenhagen and Ingar Dragset of Trondheim, Norway, have been working together since 1995 and have exhibited at top institutions around the world.
Recognized for their focus on material, historical and cultural elements, Elmgreen & Dragset “deal with questions of gender, individual and political identity and the role of art in public life and in the economic- cultural reality of the global age,” says Suzanne Landau, director and chief curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. “All these find expression in Powerless Structures.”
The exhibition is part of the joint Biography project with the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, Norway, and the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen. However, instead of continuing the survey show, Elmgreen & Dragset wanted to extend the exhibition in a new direction exclusively designed for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The concept of Powerless Structures comes from the artists’ fascination with the writings of French philosopher Michel Foucault, specifically his theories relating to power structures and their inherent ability to be altered or mutated.
“That was very much an inspiration for us – to discover that everything is just structures that could be something else – the patterns could be different. It was just a question of imagination,” details Elmgreen.
One of the two specially designed works on show is For as Long as It Lasts, 2016, a 3.6-meter-high and 33-meter-wide concrete replica of a section of the Berlin Wall. The impressive installation serves as a symbolic reminder that all walls eventually fall and, at the same time, new arbitrary separations are created.
Furthermore, the installation of this work in Israel was an intentional decision by the artists, both of whom felt it was important to present a blank surface for viewers to project personal associations.
Only partially visible behind the large wall installation is one of Elmgreen & Dragset’s well-known works, The Future, 2014, featuring a youth wearing jeans and a hoodie is seated on a fire escape.
The artists like to use works that they have shown before in order to reintroduce the piece in a new way, to a new audience, and in a “context that gives them a completely new meaning,” notes Elmgreen. “In that way, they’re suddenly placed in new constellations, new environments that tell new stories.”
While the museum does provide a treasure-map-like booklet that includes information and the locations of each of the works, none of the eight installations on show are labeled, which, according to the artists, keeps visitors on their toes.
Arguably the most effective is the installation Modern Moses, 2006, which features a realistic ATM unsuspectingly inset into a wall in the new Herta and Paul Amir Building. Underneath the ATM, on the cold cement floor, is an even more realistic wax baby in a carrycot. The modern-day take of the biblical tale takes many by surprise and evokes thoughts about abandonment, orphanhood and capitalism.
“We never seek to direct people’s reactions,” explains Elmgreen. “We like to create an environment for people to think and conclude for themselves.”
According to the artist duo, museums should not be used purely as educational tools, and instead should be considered spaces for contemplation and experimentation, and utilized as a platform for “critical and visionary thinking – thinking outside the box.”
And no one would ever accuse the duo of staying inside the lines. Elmgreen & Dragset even take the exhibition outside the museum walls and into the sculpture garden. Wishing Well, 2016, is the second of the site-specific works created for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. At first glance, the circular pond resembles the typical touristic fountain with a handful of coins scattered at the bottom; however, on closer inspection, one can see that the well is covered with a thick glass sheet preventing visitors from making wishes and thus rendering it a meaningless structure.
There is no correct interpretation or direction for viewing Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibition, and the artists’ intentions are to engage and provoke thought.
“All the possible narratives involve a blurred sense of missed opportunity, prevention, frustration and anxiety about the future, accompanied by a wink that runs the tables and invites further, other, unexpected readings,” asserts curator Ruth Direktor.
“Powerless Structures” is on show through August 27, in multiple locations throughout the museum’s new building, main building, and sculpture garden. More information: www.tamuseum.org.il