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Erwin Wurm

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You may know Erwin Wurm for his famous One Minute Sculptures - ephemeral poses held by ordinary people in public spaces that challenge our notions of sculpture and public art. But behind these playful interventions lies the work of a prolific contemporary artist exploring themes of the transient and absurd in human existence.

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Name: Erwin

Surname: Wurm

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

You may know Erwin Wurm for his famous One Minute Sculptures – ephemeral poses held by ordinary people in public spaces that challenge our notions of sculpture and public art. But behind these playful interventions lies the work of a prolific contemporary artist exploring themes of the transient and absurd in human existence.

Born in Austria in 1954, Wurm has spent over three decades pushing the boundaries of sculpture through the use of nontraditional materials and the incorporation of the human body. His irreverent humor and absurdist sensibility allow us to see the world anew. 

After decades of prolific work, Wurm remains as innovative as ever. His biography stands as a testament to the rewards of following one’s creative vision without constraint. Wurm teaches us that real art lies not in mimicking what has come before but in forging new paths that others may follow.

This biography provides an overview of Wurm’s artistic evolution, highlighting major works and contextual themes throughout his influential career. Follow Wurm’s journey from avant-garde theorist to renowned purveyor of human absurdity and social subversion. His work reminds us that while life may be fleeting, art has the power to endure.


Erwin Wurm BIOGRAPHY

Erwin Wurm
Image Credit: MoMA

Early Life and Education

Erwin Wurm was born on July 27, 1954 in Bruck an der Mur, Austria. His father was a policeman and his mother was a housewife. Wurm grew up in a small town, living what he described as a regular middle-class existence.

Wurm attended the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1980. During his studies, Wurm experimented with various mediums including film, performance art, and sculpture. His professors and mentors included renowned Austrian sculptors Bruno Gironcoli and Fritz Wotruba. Their influence and the contemporary artistic movements happening during this time shaped Wurm’s early artistic style and interest in conceptual and experimental art.

After graduating, Wurm spent several years traveling and studying abroad. He lived for a year in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and also spent time in Germany, Italy, and the United States. During this formative period, Wurm was exposed to new ideas and influences that impacted his artistic philosophy and practice. His work became more conceptual, incorporating performance, video, photography, and audience participation.


What is Erwin Wurm known for?

Erwin Wurm
Image Credit: Artsy


Erwin Wurm is a renowned Austrian artist known for his One Minute Sculptures. In this, he demonstrate his wry and subversive sense of humor in exploring the absurdity of everyday life and the limits of the human body.


Career highlights

Erwin Wurm
Image Credit: MoMA


In the late 1980s, Wurm began receiving recognition for his avant-garde sculptures and unconventional use of everyday objects. His “One Minute Sculptures” series, consisting of photographs depicting people posing with mundane items in unusual ways, brought him international acclaim. The series epitomized Wurm’s quirky and whimsical style, subversive humor, and ability to turn banal into the absurd.

Wurm’s early life, education, and travels were instrumental in developing his highly innovative and distinctive artistic style. His formative experiences allowed him to break from tradition and forge new paths in contemporary sculpture and performance art. By cleverly manipulating and re-contextualizing common materials and environments, Wurm’s work reveals the poetics of the mundane and absurdity of human existence.


Emergence of One Minute Sculptures

Emerging in the late 1980s, Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures brought a sense of ephemerality and interactivity to contemporary sculpture. These performative works invite viewers to interact with ordinary objects in unfamiliar ways, holding poses for a short period.

To create a Minute Sculpture, Wurm carefully arranges everyday objects, furniture, and clothing in space and invites participants to interact with the assemblage. Participants are directed to hold positions that subvert the intended uses of the objects and explore the potential of the human body. The results are playful, absurd, and thought-provoking.

Some of Wurm’s most well-known One Minute Sculptures include:

1991

Balancing Act

Participants balance on one leg with their arms extended while holding buckets of water.

1992

Shirt 

Participants put their legs through the arms of an oversized button-down shirt and button it behind their back.

2005

One Minute Sculpture (Austrian Pavilion, Venice Biennale)

Participants squat inside a narrow box, with only their heads visible above the rim.

The ephemerality of these interactive sculptural performances is captured in videos and photographs that become lasting documentation of the work. Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures demonstrate his wry and subversive sense of humor in exploring the absurdity of everyday life and the limits of the human body. By inviting viewers to actively participate in his works, Wurm also highlights the fleeting and temporal nature of the art experience itself.


Expansion into Performative Sculptures

In the 1990s and 2000s, Wurm created interactive sculptures that involved the physical participation of viewers. These performative sculptures often required viewers to contort their bodies into unusual positions. 

  • Narrow House (2010):  Participants had to squeeze through a narrow crawlspace
  • Leaning Sculpture (1997): Viewers leaned against a tilted wall at a 45-degree angle

Erwin Wurm List of Work

Erwin Wurm
Image Credit: MoMA

Solo Exhibitions

Wurm’s most recent solo shows include:

“The Geometry of Emotions”

2019

Held at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. This mid-career survey spanned three decades of Wurm’s practice, from early polystyrene and wood sculptures to recent works in bronze, stone, and mixed media.

“Peace & Plenty”

2020

Held at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in London revisiting familiar motifs from Wurm’s oeuvre including sausages, cars, and the human figure. The exhibition centered around a monumental hot dog made of bronze and red marble.

“Stone”

2021

Held at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York featuring new bronze and stone sculptures addressing balance, form, and the human body.


Collaborations and Public Works

In addition to gallery shows, Wurm frequently collaborates on public art projects and commercial works:

Wurm created sculptural furniture for the lobbies of the Armani Hotel in:

  • Milan (2019) 
  • Morgans Hotel in New York (2018)

Wurm’s first public art project:

  • “How to Be Politically Incorrect” (2018)
  • Held in Asia located in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor

This project features five aluminum sculptures resembling common objects frozen in motion. The installation invites reflection on society’s rules and restrictions.

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