Elmgreen & Dragset want you to say sorry in the Rockies
Skiing in Aspen this season? Why not pair that trip with an opportunity to say sorry courtesy of the art duo?
If you’re in Aspen this ski season, you might want to look out for an unusual town crier. Every day at noon until 19 May, a middle-aged man in drab clothing will walk over to a glass case set on a plinth beside the Aspen Art Museum, take out a polished metal megaphone and declare to anyone in earshot “It’s never too late to say sorry.”
The work, part sculpture, part performance, is by Elmgreen & Dragset, the Scandinavian art duo who’ve been allowing institutions to stage the piece in various cities around the world since 2011.
How should vacationing snow-sports enthusiasts – or anyone else in town, known for both its snow and its fine art – interpret the announcement? Anyway they see fit, according to Martin Herbert, author of the survey section of our new Contemporary Artists Series book on Elmgreen & Dragset. “You could read it however you liked,” writes Herbert about an earlier staging of the work, in Munich back in 2013, “from the personal to the national.”
However, it might be worthwhile to look back to the artists’ earlier works, created in the 1990s, which featured free beers, rugs and guys hanging out, listening to music on personal stereos. These installations “tested how art audiences might behave differently,” explains Herbert.
In part they were a reaction against the anxious, socially fraught setting of the white-box contemporary art gallery, with its snooty desk staff, and silent guards.
The pieces seem to suggest “that such a context was not stable," Herbert writes. "The artists were reading – misreading, they say – critical theory, not least Michel Foucault’s claim that social structures hold no power unless we permit them to do so,” he goes on. “Change the structure, change our behaviour: such was and continues to be a belief underwriting Elmgreen & Dragset’s art.”
Maybe that's what they're doing here. A lone man with a megaphone isn’t necessarily going to make a single person, a town, or a country repent for any wrongdoings, but at least it reminds us - skiiers and non-skiiers alike - of the possibilities for apology and forgiveness.
For more on the artists and their brilliant, unusual work, order a copy of our Elmgreen & Dragset book here; and if you like the look of the museum in the background, take a look at our Shigeru Ban book; he designed the Aspen Art Museum and plenty more besides.