Pregnant White Maid and Invisible. Courtesy of the Nasher.

Visual Arts

Scandinavian Duo Elmgreen and Dragset Bring Surrealism to the Nasher

The pair best known for Prada Marfa presents a disorienting experience for its first U.S. museum exhibition.

“You do know there’s a baby outside, right?” 

I hadn’t been in the Nasher Sculpture Center for more than 20 seconds when I overheard another visitor asking the docent this at the front desk. The infant was left haphazardly in its carrier, lying on the ground in front of an ATM in the foyer of the museum. 

From the look on the docent’s face, you could tell it wasn’t the first time someone had expressed their concern for the child. In fact, she told us, someone had tried to call the police a few days before. 

But the baby wasn’t abandoned. It’s not even a real baby. The ATM is also a hoax. It’s all another tricky sculpture by Elmgreen and Dragset, the Scandinavian duo famous for their forever-closed Prada store on the outskirts of Marfa.

The artists’ first major museum presentation in the U.S., simply titled Elmgreen & Dragset: Sculptures, opened this week at the Nasher. The exhibit looks at two decades of collaboration between the artists, honing in on their strange, often perplexing presentation of art in public spaces. That lonely little baby in front of the cash machine, Modern Moses, is a perfect example. This work is supposed to mess with your head a little bit. 

Modern Moses. Courtesy of the Nasher.

So, when you’re walking into the Nasher and see a suspicious Donation Box filled with paraphernalia, look, but do not touch (or contribute). It’s a sculpture. When you see the mint green cooler in the middle of the sculpture garden lawn, don’t look inside for refreshments. It’s a sculpture. When you see a trio of doors beneath the stairs, be wary of the one with hinges on both sides. Yep, it’s a sculpture. 

While Elmgreen and Dragset present their installations with humor, and perhaps a dash of mischief, there are more complex themes lurking beneath the surface. As the artists create their own surreal worlds, they’re also constructing a narrative that touches on youth and aging, gay rights, and the privatization of public space. (Modern Moses references the privatization of social welfare programs, for instance.) 

Many of the items on display are from their archives, but there are a few unique additions in the Nasher exhibit. The Dallas Diaries is the most compelling and also the most uncomfortable to view. A handful of young, local men are stationed in the gallery, sitting at desks with pencils and paper, scribbling their thoughts and dreams as visitors peer over their shoulders. You can even flip through their notebooks when they’re on break. The work itself invites voyeurism, but it’s still awkward to observe another human while they pour their thoughts onto the page. 

The show also includes the pair’s first-ever augmented reality artwork, “geolocated” in the Nasher’s garden while being permanently installed in Oslo, Norway. You can view it on your smartphone through the Acute Art app. 

Elmgreen & Dragset: Sculptures is on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center through January 5, 2020. Admission is $10.

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