Exhibitions Fairs Germany

Shrigley enshrines Bubbles the chimp

Elmgreen & Dragset’s public art show fills Munich with masturbation, megaphones and the smell of pork

David Shrigley’s shrine dedicated to Michael Jackson’s chimp

When Michael Jackson died, a group of his fans in Munich erected an impromptu shrine in front of the hotel in which he once stayed. The photographs, mementos, candles and flowers assembled around the base of a statue of the 16th-century composer Orlando di Lasso amounts to a “guerrilla monument”, says the British artist David Shrigley. “The fans see [their shrine] as an act of devotion; I see it as a public work of art.” So when the Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset asked Shrigley to make a work for “A Space Called Public”, an outdoor exhibition of public art that they were organising in the German city, Shrigley opted to create an “ironic response” to the Jackson memorial. For Bubblesplatz, the artist plastered the base of a nearby statue with images of Bubbles, the chimpanzee who was once favoured by the star before being unceremoniously dumped.

Today, Bubbles lives in an animal sanctuary in Florida, which “has to raise $1m a year to look after him—Jackson didn’t leave anything in his will for his care,” says Shrigley, who adds that he has become “increasingly interested” in animal rights. Jackson’s fans have not taken the implied criticism of their idol well. “They have been vandalising my work… bits of it keep disappearing. I didn’t think they would see [my monument] as such a threat.”

The battle over the memory of the late singer neatly illustrates the central themes of Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibition, which runs until September. “Public space belongs to everybody and to nobody at the same time… there is a struggle for it, especially in a democracy,” says Ingar Dragset, pointing to a work by the German artist Alexander Laner (entitled Better Living) as a “comment on who has the right to public space”. In January, the artists Stephen Hall and Li Li Ren erected a replica of London’s Fourth Plinth, an empty pedestal in Trafalgar Square that is used for a rotating display of contemporary art, in Munich’s Wittelsbacherplatz, home to a grand equestrian statue of Maximilian I, the ruler of Bavaria who presided over the Thirty Years’ War.

Now, Laner has turned Hall and Ren’s 4th Plinth Munich into a temporary home; members of the public will take up residence in the structure for 24 hours at a time, starting from this week. “Traditionally, public sculpture has been monuments to grumpy old men who won wars. We tried to do more of a celebration of everyday life,” Michael Elmgreen says.

Elsewhere, a commemorative plinth in Neo-classical style recalls traditional celebrations of heroic achievements. But the funerary monolith, a work by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, is inscribed in German with the phrase: “The only thing he ever wanted to do was masturbate and eat truffles.” The sculpture may be offensive to some, but Hans-Georg Küppers, the director of Munich’s department of arts and culture, believes that the freedom to cause offence is important. “There has been no kind of censorship of the work here… people might not like some of [it],” he says, adding that the city has spent around €1.2m on the exhibition.

Pieces such as a daily performance by Elmgreen & Dragset have the power to “raise important questions about us”, Küppers says. An elderly man picks up a megaphone every day in the Odeonsplatz, a space traditionally used for parades and public events, and shouts: “It’s never too late to say sorry”, a declaration which is particularly resonant in Germany, the artists say. Also in the city are works by Ruscha, Kippenberger and the Norwegian “smell artist” Sissel Tolaas, who has installed hidden devices that pump out the “distinctive Munich smells” of pork, beer and perfume in a passageway in the city.

A shrine erected by the pop star’s fans
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