The Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset are once again showing off their special blend of high production values and hijinks, and finishing up with considerations of the deeply serious. In this sly, appealing roundup—with sculptures dating from 1998 to the present—the artists weigh in on male sexuality, identity, and topical social issues that bump up against questions of life and death.
Although the works are all discrete, they could be read as a series of loosely connected tableaux or dramatic acts, the sequences and narratives variable, which is part of the show’s pleasure. It’s a sort of whodunit and recalls their terrific 2009 Venice project that floated the body of a dead collector face downward in a pool in front of the Danish and Nordic pavilions.
The opener, installed opposite the elevator on the ninth floor, is an abandoned infant (made in wax but wholly convincing) bundled into a carrier on the floor beneath an ATM machine. Called Modern Moses (2006), it raises many flags, engaging our inner detective.
From there, you might encounter a realistically portrayed boy in his underwear, standing in front of a mirror, staring. He wears high heels and lipstick, experimenting with his sense of self-identification. He might, as one narrative possibility, represent the baby, presumably rescued, as a boy. Or, at another stage of maturation, the baby might be the lifeguard installed outside. Watching (2016), the newest work here, is a full-scale stainless-steel figure seated alertly in its chair intently surveying the scene through binoculars, a shining would-be hero stranded ineffectually on a high-rise terrace. Another installation replicates a deluxe mortuary, one door open to reveal the naked, silicone feet and part of the legs of an otherwise draped male corpse. That, too, adds narrative fuel, a memento mori via crime-scene investigations. Who is this man? Why is he there? How did he die? Is he the baby?
On the tenth floor, there is a sculpture of two melting candles of differing heights, the title of which—1 hr. 33 mins/2 hrs. 22 mins (2016)—refers to the amount of time required for them to burn down if they weren’t marble. The message is mixed. Nearby, occupying most of the gallery, is Side Effects (2015), the show’s most imposing memorial to hope and death, an elegant installation of transparent glass vessels that suggest apothecary jars filled with the actual pastel-colored powdered coatings used in new HIV meds for a scourge not yet eradicated.
To switch out Chekov’s gun, if you put a baby in the first act, what will be his fate in the second act?