Erwin Wurm

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Erwin Wurm
Erwin Wurm, 2014
Born (1954-07-27) 27 July 1954 (age 60)
Bruck an der Mur, Austria
Nationality Austrian
Education University of Applied Arts Vienna
Known for Sculpture, Photography
Notable work Fat Car series
Awards Grand Austrian State Prize 2013

Erwin Wurm (born 1954) is an Austrian artist born in Bruck an der Mur / Styria. He currently lives and works in Vienna and Limberg[disambiguation needed], Austria.[1]

Since the late 1980s, he has developed an ongoing series of One Minute Sculptures, in which he poses himself or his models in unexpected relationships with everyday objects close at hand, prompting the viewer to question the very definition of sculpture. He seeks to use the "shortest path" in creating a sculpture — a clear and fast, sometimes humorous, form of expression. As the sculptures are fleeting and meant to be spontaneous and temporary, the images are only captured in photos or on film.


In The Artist Who Swallowed the World (Hatje Cantz) Wurm is quoted as saying: "I am interested in the everyday life. All the materials that surrounded me could be useful, as well as the objects, topics involved in contemporary society. My work speaks about the whole entity of a human being: the physical, the spiritual, the psychological and the political."

Wurm is known for his humorous approach to formalism.[1] About the use of humor in his work, Wurm says in an interview: "If you approach things with a sense of humor, people immediately assume you're not to be taken seriously. But I think truths about society and human existence can be approached in different ways. You don't always have to be deadly serious. Sarcasm and humor can help you see things in a lighter vein."[2]

Although the images are slightly humorous, they extend or manipulate reality in ways that can be disturbing. Wurm’s work portrays manipulated images of things in every day life, things that look familiar, but which become distorted. Pieces like Truck, where a truck curves up against the building or Narrow House, a thin, claustrophobic house, take something familiar to all and distort it by enlarging, curving it, or slimming it down. “I will often use humor to seduce people”, admits Wurm. “To get them to move closer, but it’s never very nice when they look closer." Wurm’s work is often critical of Western soceity and the mentality and lifestyle of his childhood during post-World War II Austria. It is important to understand that although Wurm's sculptures are humorous and ridiculous, they are actually quite serious. His criticism is playful, but should not be confused with kindness. [3] He represents his criticism of objects, such as clothing, furniture, cars and houses, everyday objects are to his audience. Common themes in his work include not only our relationship to banal everyday objects, but also philosophers (like Sigmind Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein), life in postwar Austria and gaining and losing weight.

In talking about his often mentioned topics of losing and gaining weight and philosophy Wurm stated, "It's about the difficulty to cope with life. Whether with diet or with a philosophy".[4] What is being talked about here is how diet and philosophy are two parts of our daily lifestyle: on the one hand and on the other hand physically spiritually. In the context of the quote, this "diet" could concern cars or clothes or food: a diet in which you consume too much ensures that you will exist in excess. Sometimes people buy things that symbolize high status with which they manage their life. Of this act his bloated works speak to. But his work also deals with philosophy by focusing on philosophers who lived in the time of the early twentieth century.

One Minute Sculptures[edit]

To make a One Minute Sculpture, the viewer has to part with his habits. Wurm’s instructions for his audience are written by hand in a cartoon-like style. Either Wurm himself or a volunteer follow the instructions for the sculpture, which is meant to put the body in an absurd and ridiculous-looking relationship with everyday objects. Whoever chooses to do one of Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures holds the pose for a minute, or the time it takes to capture the scene photographically. These positions are often difficult to stay in, although a minute is very short, but a minute for a One Minute Sculpture can feel like an eternity.

In the Red Hot Chili Peppers music 2003 video "Can't Stop" the members of the band carry out five of Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures. At the end of the video a sign states that Wurm was an inspiration for the video. In a recent iTunes interview Flea is quoted as saying Wurm's picture of a man with a pencil in his nose was a significant influence on the video (Flea himself appears in the video, at a certain point, with markers in his nostrils, pencils in his ears and paint pot caps over his eyes). Due to the popularity of the video Wurm’s work also boomed in popularity.

Fat Car series[edit]

Wurm believes the creation of sculpture is adding and subtracting material to an object.[5] In his works, he does so by layering clothes over each other, or items represented as fat, obese, or inflated.

Wurm has worked on a series of sculptures titled Fat Car, which depict “puffy, obese, life-size sculptures that bulge like overfilled sacks”.[6] The first of his Fat Car series was developed with Opel designers, but they were unsuccessful in achieving the kind of shape that Wurm had in mind. In order to create the desired look of fatness, the artist uses polyurethane foam and styrofoam covered with lacquer. Wurm has also produced a Fat House at near full scale.

His “fat” works of art are meant to critique consumer culture and Western culture’s need for material objects. Wurm once noted, that so many people are obsessed with having bigger houses and bigger cars, which is exactly what he creates in these pieces. However, his cars and Fat House are not big in the sense that people are drawn to. Although these pieces look ridiculous and funny, there is very pointed criticism behind them about how ridiculous and funny the owners of such things are to the artist.

Narrow House[edit]

Erwin Wurm "shrank" his parents' house to reflect the mentality of Austria during the postwar period, the design of the house is typical of the 50s, but a fraction as wide. Inside the house there is humorously shrunken furniture. This piece was inspired by Wurm's childhood, since he grew up during the 1950s and '60s '70s in postwar Austria. Growing up he lived with his parents; his mom stayed at home and his father was a policeman.[7] Therefore, it was difficult to express himself both at school and at home. This limited view has affected Wurm's philosophy of art strongly, and Narrow House is a physical manifestation of it. When the viewers walk through, they feel the tension and claustrophobia that Wurm experienced on a daily basis as a child.

Collections and exhibitions[edit]

Erwin Wurm's works are a part of prestigious collections worldwide, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Walker Art Center, Museum Ludwig, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Musee d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, Museum of Old and New Art, and the Centre Pompidou.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Lehmann Maupin". Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Wurm, E (2007). "Pretty Cool People Interviews: Erwin Wurm", SubmarineChannel.
  3. ^ "Erwin Wurm and The Standard: How the notorious Austrian artist inspired a collaboration unlike any we've done before". The Standard. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Musik & Extase : Die Wagner-Ausstellung" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  5. ^ "Art Review : January & February 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  6. ^ Patton, Phil (2 April 2010.) 'Cars Starved (or Stuffed) for Attention', The New York Times
  7. ^ "Kテシnstlergesprテ、ch: Erwin Wurm zu "Narrow House"". Retrieved 20 January 2015. 

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