In this series of photographic works Michael Elmgreen (b. Copenhagen, Denmark 1961) and Ingar Dragset (b. Trondheim, Norway 1969) have invited Thorvaldsen to be a guest star on the contemporary art scene. The museum returned the favour by inviting the public to view this series of eight works in the first-ever presentation of the complete series.
In their large-format photographs (H: 200 cm x B: 149,5 cm) Elmgreen & Dragset have dressed up Thorvaldsen’s sculptures in various items of clothing. The work ”Mercury (Socks)” features Thorvaldsen’s ”Mercury about to Kill Argus” in sports socks with blue stripes and a sweat band on one wrist. In ”Jason (Briefs)” we encounter ”Jason with the Golden Fleece” wearing white briefs while ”Adonis (Backpack)” shows Thorvaldsen’s ”Adonis” wearing a backpack.
Eroticism is nothing new at Thorvaldsen’s Museum, which is filled with sculptures of naked men and women. No doubt the majority of guests do notice, yet few let on. The only giggles and whispers to be heard come from the visiting children. However the lack of adult reaction is probably not entirely down to good manners. A major contributing factor is surely the fact that the cool marble nudity of the figures is so ideal and classically stylised that it almost appears as a garment in its own right. Elmgreen & Dragset use the new items of clothing to draw forth the erotic element of the marbles of the old master: staging erotic desire by emphasizing the latent possibility of undressing.
The sculptures at the museum represent both sexes, yet the artists have consistently avoided female sculptures, focusing solely on those of their own gender. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with Elmgreen & Dragset’s art, firstly because these are men who make no attempt to hide their homosexuality and secondly, because over the years their projects have yielded a number of works focusing on issues of sexuality and gender identity.
When Elmgreen & Dragset create new works based on Thorvaldsen’s sculptures a certain sexual ambivalence is brought into play, which cannot help but challenge established perceptions of classical art. As such the Thorvaldsen-series may appear provocative vis-à-vis the work of this canonized artist, yet it remains respectful. The idea of providing accessories for the sculptures is entirely in keeping with Thorvaldsen’s own practice; for his sculptures are identified precisely by their accessories (or attributes to as they are termed in art history): Cupid by his bow and arrow, Ganymede by his cup and bowl, etc. Thus in a sense Elmgreen & Dragset are speaking the same language as Thorvaldsen, thereby expressing not only solidarity with an older colleague but a certain love for him.
The exhibition was arranged by curator William Gelius.
Elmgreen & Dragset: Jason (Briefs), 2009.
Elmgreen & Dragset: Mercury (Socks) 2009.
Elmgreen & Dragset: Adonis (Backpack),