Erwin Wurm: “The assumption that my work is predominantly humorous is wrong”

Austrian Artist Erwin Wurm represented his country at the 57th Bienale Art di Venizia with “Narrow House” in 2010 and also with his performative One Minute Sculptures. Accepting that he states his work is not meant to be funny, it would be very hard not to find his work amusing, and he does accept that this is what happens when people first encounter the works.

However, in an interview with Alexandra-Maria Toth for the Auctioneer sponsors of the Austrian Pavillion (and published in their Dorotheum Magazin) Wurm insists that the humour is not the point.(Toth, 2010)

“At least the assumption that my work is predominantly humorous is wrong. The humorous aspect of my work may be a superficial one that, on first contact, may provide a more immediate access to a work, but beyond that there is a deeper meaning to the work which it is for the viewer to discover”.   (ibid)

He would rather his work was talked of in terms of ‘Critical Cynicism’

“What I use and what I like to use is cynicism — I call it critical cynicism — to speak about certain truths in our world and our reality from a certain aspect, a cynical aspect.”(Murg, 2013/17)

images :

  • Fat Bus, 2016 – It should be noted that this is the exact pink of a Punschkrapfen which is an Austrian fancy cake. Photo: Studio Erwin Wurm
  • Organisation of Love, 2005/2015
  • Image: Courtesy of Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Photo: Wolfgang Guenzel
  • One minute Participatory Sculpture performed at the Vienna Beannale

In his first solo show at the Vienna’s Albertina museum he exhibited a collection of photographs of his friends which seemed to show the fragility of humanness titled “Pictures of Friendship” . Wurm has taken the photographs and painted out areas, changing the body shape, making them somehow vulnerable. The cover image is of Nitche, Franz West being the only other “friend” who remains clothed. Whilst to its audience the models will remain anonymous friends of friends would no doubt recognise themselves and others. Their humanness, in their “Sagging muscles, parchment skin, bulging bellies and unwarranted hairs” (Marianna, 2013) accentuated by the artist’s painted marks.  The title of the exhibition “De profundis”, Wurn says, comes from the homonymous letter of Oscar Wilde written whilst in Reading Prison. (here read by the actor Neil Bartlett) “if you find something in it of which you feel unjustly accused then weep as we weep in prison” (Artangel, 2016)

Images from the exhbition catalogue book Erwin Wurm. De Profundis in the Albertina. Eited. by Antonia Hoerschelmann (2012) 

In the interviews above he says more than once that his work is not funny, even saying that people laughing at his work makes him angry, yet he himself, according to Stephanie Murg, chuckles out loud when pointing to one of his own sculptures of a man dressed only in an armless pink shirt (which resembles a straight jacket). “Telekinetischer Masturbator” (2009)

The Technical Mastorbater 2009

If the artist himself is prone to laugh at his own work what chance have we as his audience. I would rather laugh out loud than try to supress this reaction and it turn into a smirk!

  • Artangel (2016) ‘Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis read by Neil Bartlett – YouTube’, Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis read by Neil Bartlett.
  • Marianna (2013) ‘The Chronicler of Unpleasant Truth | ubiquarian’, the-chronicler-of-unpleasant-truth/ 2019].
  • Murg, S. (2013-02-11 2013/17) ‘”I Call It Critical Cynicism”: Sculptor Erwin Wurm on Not Trying to Be Funny’, “I Call It Critical Cynicism”: Sculptor Erwin Wurm on Not Trying to be funny. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/artinfo/i-call-it-critical-cynici_b_2663649.html 2019]. Toth, A.-M. (2010) ‘Erwin Wurm’, Dorotheum, (Sponsor of the Autrian Pavillion 27th Biaennale do Venezia).
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