Review: Erwin Wurm, “Bei Mutti”

Berlinische Galerie, Berlin.

Erwin Wurm has a knack for finding eureka moments in the most mundane circumstances. Domestic objects as activated by everyday people define his current exhibition, bringing together three bodies of work ranging from the early 1990s—including printed instructions on paper outlining fattening recipes—to the present, with oversize bronze and polyester sculptures that look like they’ve been bashed or clawed.

Turning spectators into participants, Wurm invites audiences to complete his works by literally stepping into them and accepting his play on conventions at face value. Narrow House, 2010, for instance, is a scaled-down replica of his childhood home in Austria, reflecting the narrow-mindedness of the small town in which he grew up. Miniaturized kitchen and bath appliances, a hallway library, rotary telephone, and family photos complete the setting. Two pairs of wonky flip-flops are a wry addition—Wurm doesn’t take himself too seriously, and neither should you.

Low, white, square plinths fill the main hall, each displaying brief instructions in English or German for his series of “One Minute Sculptures,” 1997–, shown alongside David Shrigley–style pen illustrations. A chair, a purse, a doghouse, tennis balls, and a pile of philosophy books are distributed for visitors to pick up and use to fulfill given tasks toward the completion of a sculpture. Sit on a prayer rug and think about Spinoza’s theories on free will or stick your face in the chair seat like an idiot—why not? Wurm offers a safe space to reflect and fool around. Anyhow, it’s only for sixty seconds, enough time to giggle awkwardly and snap a decent Instagram picture before realizing you too are a work of art.

First published on, April 28th, 2016.

arielle bier