press release

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have since 1997 been creating a series called ‘Powerless Structures’ that investigates the way in which sites such as prisons, social security offices, hospitals, museums, galleries and parks act as means of social control.

The Welfare Show, which was presented at the Serpentine Gallery, extended the artists’ investigation to the welfare model within the Western world. Through a series of works and an extensive, encyclopaedia style catalogue, visitors were invited to consider power structures including economic disparity, health care, immigration, travel, prostitution, the police state and the role art plays in society. This raised such questions as what is the welfare state? How liberal and socially responsible is it? Does it really exist, and is the political system threatened by globalisation and multinationalism? The travelling exhibition – also presented in Bergen (Norway), Vienna and Toronto – was redesigned by the artists for each location in response to the specific conditions that impact on the various cities and countries.

Throughout their career, Elmgreen and Dragset have uncovered and challenged, among other things, the way in which art is typically presented and experienced. In their exhibition at Kunsthalle Zürich, 2001–02, technicians demolished walls, erected new ones, emptied offices and painted and lit the space for six weeks – exposing, as a performance for viewers to witness, the activities that are typically behind the scenes.

Most recently the artists have created Prada Marfa, 2005, a site-specific, permanent project outside Marfa, Texas. Here they made a building that emulates the style and displays of the fashion house’s signature shops around the world. However, set on the otherwise desolate route between El Paso and Marfa, the stark, minimalist building stands in contrast to the landscape and context, and through this juxtaposition it raises questions about the aesthetics within contemporary consumerist culture and our perception of nature as sublime.

Elmgreen and Dragset, who live and work in Berlin, have been included in numerous exhibitions internationally, including the Untitled series at Tate Modern in 2003 and Utopia Station at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. They were nominated in 2000 for the Hugo Boss Prize and received Germany’s biggest art prize, Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst, in 2002.

Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset: The Welfare Show was initiated by Bergen Kunsthall, Norway and produced in collaboration between Bergen Kunsthall; Bawag Foundation, Vienna; The Power Plant, Toronto and Serpentine Gallery, London.

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Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset
The Welfare Show