Erwin Wurm has created a new series of sculptural works, SKINS, for his exhibition AVATARS in the majestic rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. The pieces included were created in dialogue with the unique architecture of the library and the paintings by Venetian Renaissance masters Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, among others. The SKINS mark new terrain for the Austrian artist, with a focus first and foremost on the qualities of surface in the sculptural idiom. The white colour of many of the SKINS allows the magnificent colorito of the surrounding paintings and space to shine, while creating playful engagements with the properties of weight and volume that are unique to the medium of sculpture.In his own idiosyncratic language, Wurm revisits the 16th-century historical clash between sculpture and painting known as the Paragone, in which artist from across Italy wrote letters and treatises arguing for the superiority of one medium over the other. Within the context of a scholarly library, Wurm’s SKINS are site-specific both in terms of the art on display as well as the discourse surrounding them, as they sit inside a scholarly library and not just any exhibition environment. Wurm contends that the skin is a membrane that mediates relationships to the world, a property that is shared between bodies and three-dimensional works, and less so in the graphic arts. For those writing in favour of sculpture within the context of the Paragone, an argument for the medium’s superiority was its unique capacity to contain multiple perspectives, to be viewed from near-infinite vantage points. Wurm’s bodily fragments in SKINS perform this quality in his characteristically ludic manner, as the sculptures become either flat, image-like statues when viewed head-on, or paper-thin linear insertions into the space of the library when seen from the side. Anticipating the possibility of multiple perspectives, AVATARS discloses the possibility for contemporary sculptural practice to reanimate its storied legacies while providing object lessons for the present.

© Images Ulrich Ghezzi



Erwin Wurm (b. 1954 in Bruck an der Mur, Austria) lives and works in Vienna. His oeuvre comprises sculptures, photography, video, performance, and painting. His works often involve everyday objects such as cars, houses, clothing, luxury bags, and food products, with which he ironically comments on consumerism and capitalist mass production. Wurm gained widespread popularity in the 1990s with his “One Minute Sculptures”. Museum pedestals are displayed and left devoid of any work, so that the audience can take the place of the sculpture for one minute, according to the artist’s whimsical instructions. With this ironic yet radical gesture, Wu...
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