Image: Erwin Wurm's 'Surrogates' in London
Erwin Wurm: Surrogates, installation view at Thaddaeus Ropac London, 2024. Photo: Aggie Cherrie.
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Erwin Wurm's 'Surrogates' in London The artist’s latest exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac in London, makes visitors look twice

22 February 2024
Ely House, London

Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm evokes the everyday with his own surreal spin, where clothes take on a life of their own. "Surrogates," the artist's latest exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac in London, makes visitors look twice.


Words by Anyu Ching

Erwin Wurm made his first sculpture out of metal wires, stones, and silverware found in and around his family's apartment in Bruck an der Mur, Austria. The 69-year-old artist-who has since garnered worldwide attention for "One Minute Sculptures," his trailblazing series that invites participants to pose with everyday objects in bizarre ways-takes inspiration from the world around him. From nailing wooden boards together to recruiting strangers to balance an apple on their heads, Wurm highlights the absurdity in the mundane. His playful and eccentric approach has been meticulously honed throughout his career spanning over three decades, and it is freshly reflected in his latest solo exhibition that animates garments to human-like ends.

"Surrogates," which opened last week in Thaddaeus Ropac's London location and runs until April 14, 2024, showcases existing works from Wurm's expansive portfolio, including his "One Minute Sculptures," alongside three new series ("Paradise," "Mind Bubbles," and "Dreamers") all made in 2024.

The subversive sculptures extend the artist's proclivity for disrupting boundaries between subject and object, human and non-human, and spectator and participant. In Paradise I (Idea of a High Heel Big), 2024, a standard beige, heeled shoe is swollen beyond recognition and tilted to stand on its tip-a commentary on the cannibalistic nature of consumer culture is pronounced by the shoe's flesh-like appearance. At Thaddaeus Ropac, Wurm reimagines the human form as a configuration of its adornments while responding to canonical sculptures and paintings. The uncanny results confront self-representation in everyday life. 

In Repentance (After Donatello), 2023, Wurm renders the emaciated body of Mary Magdalene invisible, alluding to her form through light-pink fabric and white sneakers that appear to stand up on their own. Similarly, the familiar imagery of Auguste Rodin's Monument to Balzac, 1891-97, is evoked in the aptly named Balzac (After Rodin), 2023. Other references include Sigmund Freud's seminal book The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899, which the sculptor manifests as a giant pillow with human legs in Dreamer, 2024. Wurm reflected on this in a statement to the press: "I wanted to create a figure where you cannot see a human being but you get this idea of a person." When considered as a sum of its parts, "Surrogates" provides visitors with a moment of humor as well as an entry to point to more existential questions about what it means to be human.

"Surrogates" is on view until April 14, 2024, at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery at 37 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NJ.

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