From left: Michael Elmgreen and Ingmar Dragset with The Outsiders (2020) at Art Basel in 2021 Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano; © Elmgreen & Dragset; courtesy Pace Gallery
Does a couple that collects together stay together? Yes and no in the case of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Though the two Berlin-based artists are no longer romantic partners, having broken up some 15 years ago, as the artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset they appear stronger than ever. Their eighth solo exhibition in just two years, Landscapes, is on show at Pace Geneva (until 10 August), bringing together animatronic sculpture and installations with a Surrealist bent. From a pair of hands cradling a dead bird to road signs whose mirrors are covered in prints of desert skies, the works bear the pair’s signature wit: wry punchlines on the absurdity of life. Such sensibilities are, unsurprisingly, mirrored in the art they buy themselves.
Landscapes, Elmgreen & Dragset’s current show at Pace Geneva, takes a Surrealist turn Photo: Annik Wetter; courtesy Pace Gallery, Geneva; © Elmgreen & Dragset
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you ever bought?
Elmgreen & Dragset: It was a Berlin puddle by the German artist Kirsten Pieroth. The work comes with instructions to soak up a rain puddle and pour it out in another city. It never takes on the same shape, of course. We still consider it a masterpiece from the early 2000s.
What was the most recent work you bought?
We both bought paintings by emerging artist Emil Urbanek from Weserhalle, a gallery right around the corner from our studio in Neukölln, Berlin. From another Berlin gallery, BQ, Michael recently bought a smaller Alexandra Bircken piece and he also bought an early Ross Bleckner painting at an auction. Ingar acquired a Dotty Attie triptych from PPOW that we included in the exhibition READ that we curated this past winter at Kunsthalle Praha.
Did you used to collect as a pair?
“Collect” would maybe be an exaggeration, but we buy works together that we keep in our shared space, the studio. Most recently, we purchased a wall-based sculptural work by Paul Pfeiffer: a carved wooden arm that looks like it’s from a Christ figure but has Justin Bieber tattoos on it. Over the years we have also amassed some furniture objects that we initially used for exhibitions. For an artist, almost everything has a double function as inspiration and material.
Are parts of your collection still together?
Yes, at the studio we have a lot of art, mostly from artist friends, various strange artefacts and a sizeable, shared library.
The artists’ first purchase was a Berlin puddle (not this one) by Kirsten Pieroth Anjie Lysenko
Who are the new artists you have discovered who most excite you?
Emil Urbanek, Cassie Augusta Jørgensen, Özgür Kar, Jake Troyli, Thomas Cap de Ville, Erika Stöckel, Jessy Razafimandimby, Tuda Muda and Angharad Williams, just to name a few.
Do you have a favourite work of art in your collection?
The different works we own all have distinct qualities, so it is impossible to pick any favourites. Something very special on a personal level is two pieces by Sophie Calle with handwritten dedications: the story of a nose for Michael and the story of a penis for Ingar.
What do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
If we had any regrets about not buying a work at a time when it was more accessible, it means that this artist has become only more successful. The joy of seeing a fellow artist prosper by far overshadows any possible regret.
If you could have any work from any museum in the world, what would it be?
What a terrible thought: to take an important piece from a museum to install in our home!
What tip would you give to someone visiting Basel for the first time?
Don’t get caught in the currents.
Where do you like to eat and drink in Basel?
Hmmm, eat? You don’t really get a chance to eat at the dinners in Basel, haha.
Do you have a favourite memory from Art Basel?
Showing our work The Outsiders three years ago, which consisted of two hyper-realistic figures of male art handlers spooning in the back of an old Mercedes estate car. It was parked in between the two fair buildings without much information. At some point, the Swiss customs authorities freaked until they discovered that it was an artwork.
What’s your least favourite thing about art fairs?
That they show other people’s art. In 2016 we made our own faux art fair at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which only exhibited works by Elmgreen & Dragset. Bliss. Nothing was for sale, though.