Elmgreen & Dragset

Over the past two decades, Elmgreen & Dragset have challenged their audiences to rethink the power structures hiding in all aspects of the world around them.

Since 1995, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have been working as an artistic duo making large-scale sculptures, installations and performances. Their prolific oeuvre has received international acclaim with solo exhibitions in major institutions worldwide, from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. In 2009, the artists received a Special Mention at the Venice Biennale for their celebrated presentation, The Collectors, at the Danish and Nordic Pavilions. Elmgreen & Dragset are best known for their public sculpture and ambitious re-stagings of interior spaces. 

Select Achievements
  • Solo retrospective, Elmgreen & Dragset: Sculptures at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, 2019
  • Solo show, This Is How We Bite Our Tongue at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2018
  • Solo show, Tomorrow at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2014
  • Permanent installation, Prada Marfa, Texas, 2005
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Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa (2005) Photo: James Evans

The impeccable design of their work rewrites modernist sculpture, pulling together social commentary and Minimalist aesthetics.  All of their work, whether an upside-down bunk bed, a thirty-foot defunct swimming pool, or a fictional set of a collector’s home, transforms familiar objects and settings into humorous, uncanny scenarios. Through their work, Elmgreen & Dragset question the world around them, commenting on consumerism, gentrification, masculinity, sexuality, oppression, and power.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Boy Scout, 2014. Courtesy of Galleri Nicolai Wallner.
“There was no five-year plan: how to become artists. It just happened.”

Elmgreen & Dragset hold up an absurdist mirror to the art world. Their 2008 solo show, Too Late, at London’s Victoria Miro was based on a real life anecdote; at Art Basel earlier that same year, the pair were denied entry to an after party held in their honor because the event was so exclusive. In the exhibition, the gallery was transformed into a nightclub called “The Mirror” with disco balls, cloakroom, and, of course, a section of the artists’ sculptures.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, The Mirror, 2008. Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Cameron McNee

Before the opening, Elmgreen & Dragset hosted a private party. Instead of tidying it’s aftermath, the debris of the event was left in the space so that the curators, collectors and gallerists who attended the opening of the exhibition were forced to tiptoe around discarded plastic cups littered across the floor as though they had arrived too late. Like much of Elmgreen & Dragset’s work, the piece uses humour as a mode of critique, reversing their own experience into a punchline that highlights the elitism rife in the art world.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, installation view, Too Late, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Cameron McNee

Public space is highly important to Elmgreen & Dragset. Their site-specific sculptures are monumental in scale, pulling from histories of classical sculpture and modernist architecture. Along with their visual precision, the works resist the global tide of privatisation and gentrification by creating shared collective experiences. For Elmgreen & Dragset, the conversations that the sculptures provoke within the public realm are just as important as the art-objects themselves.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, The Collector, 2009. Nordic Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
“Art should free us from guilt and make us less fearful.”
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Elmgreen & Dragset, Van Gogh's Ear, 2016. Courtesy of Public Art Fund. Photo: Jason Wyche
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Elmgreen & Dragset, Statue of Liberty, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Koenig. Photo: Mathias Voelzke

Elmgreen & Dragset see their work as a mode of civic duty, aiming to inspire conversation, analysis and independent thought in their viewers. They do not, however, preach, or ask you to agree with them, but instead Elmgreen & Dragset pose questions: they ask you to undo the absoluteness of societal norms that encompass our lives, and to see, beyond what we conditioned to believe, what we actually think.

IN THE STUDIO WITH
Elmgreen & Dragset
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Elmgreen (left) & Dragset (right. Photo: Photo: Elmar Vestner