Newcomer to Citygarden: 'Big Suit'
From the very beginning, Citygarden's approach to art collecting has had a certain sardonic edge along with an engaging sense of humor and a very accessible and valuable introduction to three-dimensional art of our time.
But if you're interested in discovering the tough stuff â art that conceals menace behind its cheerful surface â check out its monumental Pinocchio sculpture â Jim Dine's "Big White Gloves, Big Four Wheels." Or that hauntingly anthropomorphic "Bird" by Laura Ford or Tom Claassen's white bunnies, which, were they real, could hippety-hop around and take care of Mr. McGregors everywhere.
On Friday, Sept. 30, there'll come strolling into the midst of the garden's sculpture population a wry, 9-foot-tall aluminum sculpture called "Big Suit." It is the work of the impossible-to-categorize Austrian artist Erwin Wurm.
Wurm was born in the Bruck an der Mur district of the Austrian duchy of Styria in 1954. His work is exemplified not by any consistent stylistic strains, but by its bizarre, contrarian spirit. Some common elements are irreverent, sophomoric jokes, dark humor, irony, social commentary and brilliant satire. In "Big Suit," as in so much of Wurm's work, once you get beyond the funny part, the wink-wink part â once you unbutton the jacket and look into the soul of this art â you're faced with a sharp ironic edge.
"Big Suit" effectively flips the business about the Emperor's having no clothes into an artistic situation in which monumental clothes have no Emperor. And this evident irony is to be exaggerated by hoisting it onto a very substantial, extremely formal, extraordinarily elegant and classical pedestal.
In photographic form, it's engaging, amusing momentarily, but disconcerting, too, perhaps even frightening, as is true when a practical joke goes wrong, or when a sarcastic remark strikes too close to the heart. When the "Big Suit" joke is played out to its frightening conclusion, you find yourself faced with the void, with feelings of emptiness and loss.
And then there's that color. At one time the joke was on the guys in gray flannel suits. But a pink suit! Ha ha ha! How funny, funny that is, until you remember those triangular badges of pink the Nazis used to identify gays. More innocently, perhaps, pink continues to be regarded as girly. When worn by a guy, unless he's very confident and desperately preppy, there is reason for suspicion.
Along with his political admirers, Wurm has a significant pop-cult following. He is, for example, cinematically apotheosized in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' video "Can't Stop." But his work is several notches above simple pop celebrity. He received considerable attention for his "One Minute Sculptures," which he began producing in the late 1980s. They are presented, fascinatingly, in one of the Submarine channel's interviews with "Pretty Cool People".
In that work, Wurm, or a model, takes an everyday object like a chair and strikes a pose and presto! â absurdist action becomes Art. Besides its obvious conceptualism, its "Happening" evocations, there is also a Pop Art sensibility alive in this work, in which the conceit of removing a common object (think a Campbell's Soup can) from its usual dwelling place and placing it, isolating it in a gallery or a museum â or quite prominently in a celebrated, prize-winning urban sculpture garden â elevates it to the realm of the exceptional universe of art.
The public is invited to watch "Big Suit's" installation on Friday, Sept. 30. Optimal sculpture watching should begin around 11 a.m.
The next day, Saturday, Oct. 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., there's to be a free celebration planned with children in mind: pink chalk with which to draw, storytelling to be listened to and bunny-hopping parades around the grounds.
Contact Beacon associate editor Robert Duffy.