LEAP: The VIP lounge in The Well Fair is a locked door with nothing behind it; among other works, this emphasizes the quality of “denial.” I wonder why this attracts you more than, say, “complicity.”
Elmgreen & Dragset: A lot of things in our society have to do with accessibility. You are only allowed to go into the club if you are a member. You are only invited to the preview or exhibition and fair if you have a special invitation. We want to break down some of these structures to show how they really work. We give everyone a VIP card and make an inaccessible VIP lounge that no one can enter, no matter how important they are.
LEAP: A democratic effort?
E&D: A democratic decision.
LEAP: In 2011 I read about your exhibition “Celebrity” at ZKM. Exploring “the one and the many,” this idea impressed me deeply, as it reflected our highly centralized society and the invisible shadow of totalitarianism.
E&D: At first it was very much about how so much of popular culture has developed into cults of celebrity. People are more focused on talent shows, TV stars, and pop stars than they are on their family or neighbors. Their social lives are less important than the imagination they have in the media. So you can see in the west the social system is the media. And they shape people’s minds and make them behave in certain ways. Social media has become very much an obsession. I don’t know how important it is, but how people profile themselves on Instagram and try to be a celebrity and show people that they have glamorous lives, having fantastic holidays.
LEAP: I’ve just posted our photo on WeChat Moments.
E&D: It’s less about real life and more about fiction of how real life is.
LEAP: In 20 years together, you’ve created a new person, an independent identity.
E&D: And there are advantages to doing so, because sometimes it is really lonely to be in the whole system. But if you are two you can do it in a different way. Most artists have different collaborating partners in the way they make their work, fabricators or assistants. With real art fairs you are a little embarrassed to have your own work shown there because it is only commercial. Prices everywhere. In our art fair we want to make an atmosphere in different booths, letting artists tell stories in each booth. It is like we’ve occupied the art fair. There is a famous saying about art fairs, that, for artists, it is like watching your parents have sex.
LEAP: That brings us back to the power of media.
E&D: Newspapers are really bad because they love to criticize the commercial art world but they only write about the commercial art world. They always say that the biennials are terrible, but they only cover art fairs and biennials. They never go to non-profit or artist-run spaces. They think about the bad side of the art world because you only see the superficial side of the art world. There are many things that are important to art students and intellectuals, but it is never reflected in the media.
LEAP: The media reflects the Chinese collector bought a Modigliani nude for USD 170.4 million at Christie’s.
E&D: I love the part that he was a former taxi driver. For art collectors, they buy famous art because it is an investment. They don’t collect our work. Fortunately, there are still serious collectors all over the world who are more dedicated to making museums. Much more important is to establish critical discourse and inspire new artists. There are people doing things on their own everywhere, non-commercial spaces that are especially goodfor young people.
By Zhang Xiyuan
Translation: Peter Ma