Political Art

A European Rift

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A modernist dream broken. Source: Kunstmuseen Krefeld

A Jaguar with UK registration plates is parked in front of a boxy, brick-clad mansion block, packed for moving day. The owner is perhaps out of practice driving on the right – the left wing mirror is shattered and glued. On the back seat, a bag of souvenirs from Harrods. An estate agent’s sign on the front lawn declares the property “SOLD.”

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Brexit escapee installation at Krefeld’s contemporary art museum is called “The New Arrivals.” It puts moving and relocation at the center of an exploration of Europe’s current identity crisis, and the Scandinavian duo have transformed the museum into an imagined Brexit refugee center.

Elmgreen & Dragset are known for playing shrewd games that rely on context for effect, like their mock Prada boutique in the desert of Marfa, Texas that has provoked a continuous stream of vandalism.

Later this year, the duo will curate the the Istanbul Biennial in Turkey under the title “A good neighbor,” which will again address notions of home in an uncertain world.

“Europe, democracy, everything we thought was guaranteed no longer exists.”

Michael Elmgreen

Here in Krefeld, the pair take an oblique look at the influx of refugees to Germany. “There is so much talk about migration and immigration,” Ingar Dragset told Handelsblatt. “We wanted to turn it around, to be satirical – not about the immigrants themselves, but about the attitudes and prejudices our society has towards them.”

Mr. Dragset says the scenario of a family fleeing their home in fear of Brexit’s consequences is only a step beyond reality.

The artists draw a parallel between the era of the museum building’s construction — 1928 to 1930 — and present-day questions over the value of democracy and the EU. Over two floors, the artists depict the fictitious identity crises of old and new residents.

The artists’ stark modernist vision of the contemporary lifestyle of a British upper-class family, complete with thick carpets and heavy curtains, makes an uncomfortable statement on the European project’s aesthetic decline. “Europe, democracy, everything we thought was guaranteed no longer exists,” Michael Elmgreen said.

In the dining room, the table is magnificently set, but a crack runs through the table and the crockery. The bourgeois dream of happiness in an modernist architectural masterpiece has long since broken. In the children’s bedroom, a nightmarish plaster vulture is perched above the cots.

Magdalena Holzhey co-curated the re-purposing of the building as an allusive private residence. She describes the music room in particular as depicting personal failure and the fall of modern utopias.

“The grand piano is silent, one of its legs amputated, the “Artist’s Self-Portraits” are visible only as faded patches of former pictures on the wall. Practically everything here speaks to absence and standstill. The room is filled with the sound of a metronome pulsating on the piano like a heartbeat or a ceaseless measurement of time.”

Looking out at the garden, visitors see a body floating in the pool. The man appears to have taken his shoes off before committing suicide. “This is an image of the failure of all the dreams of a seemingly perfect life,” Ms. Holzhey says.

 

Susanne Schreiber is an editor at Handelsblatt, focusing on art and artists. To contact the author: schreiber@handelsblatt.com

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