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The Provocative And Necessary Political Art Of Elmgreen & Dragset

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From the Prada store in the middle of the Texas desert to the memorial to homosexuals persecuted under Nazi regime, Berlin-based artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset are critically acclaimed for their exploratory art that blends performance, installation, architecture, and sculpture.

Danish-born Michael Elmgreen and Norwegian-born Ingar Dragset together make the eponymous studio, which is as rooted in social and political critique as it is in tangible art. The duo began collaborating back in 1995 in Berlin, partners then in both work and life. The pair continue to live and work in Berlin, although they are no longer romantically together. Over the course of the next two decades, Elmgreen & Dragset would go on to create many compelling and rebellious works full of wit, yet the works encompass a more profound meaning that urges the viewer to think deeper. No topic is left unscrutinized: heteronormativity, Western materialism, AIDs-related stigma, privatization, gentrification, selfie culture, and gender binaries, to name a few. Indeed, the pair take their art very seriously—their aim is not exclusively to provide their audience humor, but to implore the questioning of power structures in society. “In these times when there’s so much populist politics all around us, art needs to do a better job of not being in an ivory tower,” explained Elmgreen in an interview for The Guardian.

Selected works include the aforementioned ‘Prada Marfa’, the permanent land art sculpture of a Prada boutique in the Texas desert; ‘Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism’, a concrete cuboid art piece in Berlin’s Tiergarten, with a window through which visitors can see a short film of two kissing men; and ‘Statue of Liberty’, an original section of the Berlin Wall with an embedded stainless steel cash machine for König Galerie. Be it converting galleries into gay locker rooms, or installing a giant swimming pool in the shape of ‘Van Gogh’s Ear’ to the Rockefeller Center in New York City, the duo cleverly unpack subjects of sensitivity with both humor and poignancy. In these divisive times, and with rogue vandals having defaced at least two of Elmgreen & Dragset’s works, that the pair continue to produce art that challenges people, is more necessary now than ever.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'This Is How We Bite Our Tongue', (2018). Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Image © Doug Peters

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Van Gogh's Ear', (2016). Rockefeller Centre, New York. Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Stigma', (2015). Massimo De Carlo, Milan. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo. Image © Roberto Marossi

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Gay Marriage' (2004). Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery. Image © Matthias Kolb

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Memorial for the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime', (2008). Tiergarten, Berlin. Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'The Experiment', (2012). Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'The Agony and the Ecstasy', (2010). Galerie Perrotin, France. Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Death of a Collector', (2009). Venice Biennale, courtesy König Galerie. Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Changing Subjects', (2016). The Flag Art Foundation, New York. Image © The Flag Art Foundation.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Prada Marfa', (2005). Valentine, Texas. Image © Antonia E-Magazine.

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'One Day I'll Grow Up', (2015). UCCA, China. Image © König Galerie

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Powerless Structures, Fig. 11', (1997). Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Denmark. Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner. Image © Bent Ryberg

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Elmgreen & Dragset, 'Dawn, Fig. 2', (2016). König Galerie, Berlin. Image © König Galerie