Step into the MAK Center in West Hollywood and you will find a series of curious objects resting on gleaming, white plinths: A sneaker. A stuffed pink plush dog. A crude lamp manufactured out of a cheap plastic bucket, the sort found at hardware stores.
These are all the basic building blocks for Austrian artist Erwin Wurm's "One Minute Sculptures," a series of works that require the participation of the viewer to complete.
For these, Wurm lays out everyday materials that he finds in his peregrinations around a city. Then he draws a crude set of instructions for the viewer to execute. This might involve standing on a plinth with a stuffed dog on your head or moving a sponge from one shelf to the next.
"I like materials that are simple, direct and cheap," the artist explained during a tour of his show. "When I first started to make sculpture, I would often use leftovers. I'd go to a lumberyard and make pieces out of the leftover pieces of wood. So I really began to think of the materials that are around me — and I found myself dealing with the materials of daily life."
While the actions might seem lightly humorous, they are really about poking a stick at the nature of heroism and the monument.
"Everyone wants to be a hero and good and great and we are not," says Wurm. "We all think we are the center of the world. There are 7 billion people and they are each the center of their world. This points at that. It makes fun of it. It creates an unsure-ness — and an unsure-ness can make you more sensitive."
The artist, who is based in Vienna, has been making the "One Minute Sculptures" since the 1980s. Since its debut, the series has been shown in countless arts institutions around the world and has even inspired a music video: "Can't Stop" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who worked with Wurm to create a series of sculptures for the shoot.
Wurm says that sometimes he will have an idea for an action and will search out an object with which to fulfill it — such as a cheap sneaker to balance on your head. Other times, he says he will stumble across an object and it will inspire an action.
"What's important to me is that the piece have a beginning, but also an end," he says. "An end is always a part of it."
The artist makes other, more permanent forms of sculpture, too — works inspired by architecture, monuments and even vehicles. His "Fat Car" series, which seems particularly well-suited to Los Angeles, re-imagines cars, those objects of gearhead veneration, as bloated and distended objects.
While Wurm's works have appeared in a number of exhibitions in Los Angeles, this is the first time his "One Minute Sculptures" are making an appearance. After the show, all of the objects but one — "Clarification Bucket," which the MAK Center is acquiring — will go back to serving their original purposes. The sneaker will cease to be sculpture and go back to being footwear. The plush doll will no doubt enliven the life of some young kid.
"We live in a culture in which nothing is experienced over the long-term," says Wurm. "Everything is short-lived."
The artist's wry "One Minute Sculptures" makes that point 60 seconds at a time.
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