Review /

Erwin Wurm Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac / Paris Pantin

Erwin Wurm’s sculptural series “Samurai & Zorro” (2012) depicts real buildings, ranging from prisons to homes, whose scaled-down forms have been subjected to various traumas and mutilations. The works—an assortment of bronze, aluminum, polyester, and acrylic casts based on sculpted clay—feature miniaturized architectural details like windows, porticos, chimneys and roofing. They also bear scars of a life-size slugfest. Boot heel pockmarks, knuckle imprints, and gash wounds tell of violent forces waged onto the still malleable clay models. Highlighting the physicality of Wurm’s process, seventeen sculptures are here presented with two “behind the scenes” videos and an ongoing live performance.

The buildings’ enfeebled physiques are emphasized by their presentation on low white pedestals and humble wood-plank platforms. Towering over this landscape of fist-pummeled incarceration facilities, the viewer can’t help but feel somehow complicit in the politically charged, human-scale acts of retaliation. Zorro (San Quentin), 2012, a replica of California’s only death-row prison, is so-titled for its sword-swiped façade. Stammheim, 2012, which represents the German supermax prison where the trial of the Baader-Meinhof Group was held, has been gouged through with an escape tunnel. And a model of an Austrian psychiatric ward (Diverge, 2012) bears two deep-sunk footprints crushed into its distinctive cupcake-round roof. In addition to penitentiary buildings, humbler abodes are also the subjects of Wurm’s destructive acts. A seemingly benign cottage, Liegen auf Haus Ex, 2012, bows pitiably to one side. Despite its prettified silver coating, this heaved-upon house—the artist’s ex-girlfriend’s, according to the work’s title—is an ugly incarnation of personal vengeance.

Video documentation of Wurm kicking, punching, smacking and hacking the damp clay models not only identifies the precise actions responsible each sculpture’s final form, but also reveals the exacting physical toll these interventions take on the artist. Further stressing the corporeal aspect of his process, Wurm invites the viewer to participate in a man vs. architecture performance. On a low stage at one end of the gallery, eight clay models representing Thaddaeus Ropac’s Pantin gallery complex are arranged like a circuit-training course. Next to each building are floor-written directives such as, “Kneel on the house and then stand up. Repeat this exercise three times.” Atop one of the models, the performer is instructed to read aloud from Wittgenstein’s 1921 treatise Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The text, which discusses the limit between sense and nonsense, presages the end result of the group calisthenics, whereby sense (symbolized by architecture) will be transformed into a nonsensical pile of muddy clay.

by Mara Hoberman