MUNICH - The popular conception of Munich is as the seat of conservative, Old World Germany—all bier gartens, oom-pah-pah bands and Bavarian charm.
But the duo Elmgreen & Dragset, one of the art world’s cheekiest contemporary teams, has taken on the task of shaking up dowdy old Munich in a nine-month art project that launched at the end of January, A Space Called Public. They are essentially the creative directors of the city’s plazas, and the whole project conveniently leads up to a big show of their work at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in October.
Michael Elmgreem, who is Danish, and Ingar Dragset, who is Norwegian, are a former romantic couple who do most of their work in Berlin these days, and they have devoted themselves to getting art out of the stuffy museum context. As Dragset told me in 2011, “I’m very much for the art world being less esoteric.” At that year’s edition of the Performa festival in New York, they presented a Beckett-like play about two gay artists who wake up one day and aren’t sure if they’re in a prison camp or a cheap hotel.
It's Never Too Late to Say Sorry.
That doesn't sound like something you’d see in Munich, which is exactly the point—the city wants to revamp its image as more risk-taking, even down to being willing to refer to its very darkest history. Starting March 12, in a work by Elmgreen & Dragset themselves, each day at noon a performer will pull a megaphone out of a glass case situated in the Odeonsplatz and shout “It’s never too late to say sorry!” That’s because Odeonplatz played a role in the development of the National Socialist party, a.k.a. the Nazis.
A less provocative element of the project is already on view in Wittelsbacherplatz: a replica of the famous empty Fourth Plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square. 4th Plinth Munich, by Stephen Hall and Li Li Ren, is actually an invitation to other artists to come up with a suitable piece for the space, which will then be presented over the summer. Later in the year, Icelandic musician Ragnar Kjartansson will be collaborating with the Munich Philharmonic on a piece that will surely be something different that the orchestra’s usual repertoire of Brahms and Mahler.
That’s only a sampling of what Elmgreen & Dragset have in store, with public projects running through September. For those of us who usually make a beeline to Germany’s undisputed art center, Berlin, this may be reason enough to hop a train or plane to Munich to see what they are cooking up.