The exhibition begins at the entrance to the museum, where you will see what looks like a regular donation box, a commonality in many museums around the world. Yet, when you take a closer look, no coin slot exists, and its contents are not donations but miscellaneous objects and pieces of trash. The donation box illustrates Elmgreen & Dragset’s tendency to use materials that create a passive-aggressive relationship with the viewer. Perhaps the trash in a donation box is a sober reality of the museum economy in a capitalist era. The subsequent works are scattered as a trajectory throughout the museum, which leads the visitor through different galleries and gardens.
The experience is a rather fun one, as you chance upon each new piece, wandering around the galleries. As Mr. Dragset himself stated, ‘you will see our art whether you like it or not.’ You can use the guidebook, if you wish, to find each piece of the exhibition, Powerless Structures, and read through the various explanations. Or you, the viewer, can decide how you would like to interpret the somewhat disturbing and jolting works that await.
If you are not expecting it, and you haven’t come to the museum for the exhibition, the next piece might shock you. You stumble upon an abandoned baby in a carrycot, which is disturbingly lifelike. What makes this piece even more intriguing is the fact that the baby lies peacefully beneath a realistic, but inoperative ATM. This is the ‘Modern Moses,’ a blunt representation of abandonment and orphanhood, in the shadow of a capitalist economy. Will someone adopt this baby and give it a better life?
The exhibition’s unmarked route continues, and you chance upon a scaffold, a ladder, a painter’s bucket and an unfinished sign. Introducing what looks like will be a Matisse show, this is a fictitious piece by Elmgreen & Dragset, an exhibition that will never take place. In stark contrast to the fictitious would-be Matisse exhibition of colorful landscapes, the visitor is led into an expansive gallery that is cut across by an exact concrete replica of the Berlin Wall. Some viewers may be surprised that graffiti is absent from the wall. However, Elmgreen & Dragset stated that the graffiti is a falsification of history. Behind the wall sits a teenage boy on a fire escape, brooding, unhappy and looking towards his unknown future.
Away from the severe gray Berlin Wall, you are taken outside to a garden. You will find what looks like a wishing well, but upon closer inspection, it is, in fact, a meaningless structure, with a thick pane of glass on top and various unmarked disks inside representing coins. Here, once again, the viewer is prevented from actively participating and throwing a coin into the well, just like with the donation box and inoperative ATM.
At last, you are led through galleries whose walls are adorned with portraits from the 16th and 17th century, where the most unassuming piece of the exhibition is discovered. It is the only piece with a label, or you might miss it. The wall is blank, with only two oblongs, which look like the paintings have been removed. These blank spaces represent the ‘the Portraits of the artists.’ This piece is very thought-provoking in an age when humans are obsessed with themselves and selfies. Yet, these artists wished to remain as anonymous pale abstracts in a room of exquisitely detailed portraits.
The exhibition’s title, Powerless Structures, has become Elmgreen & Dragset’s signature title. But it is up to you, the viewer, to interpret, contemplate and understand each piece in your own way. As the artists stated: ‘they do not believe there is such a thing as universal truth.’
Bus Nos. 9, 18, 28, 70, 90, 111
By Sacha Gorelik
Sacha loves yoga, being outdoors, exploring new places, meeting creative people and doing a bit of crafty stuff herself. She is also the founder of The Sabra Patch, an online marketplace for Israeli handmade products, with a focus on culture and the creative makers behind the products. Follow the Sabra Patch on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for inspiration!