The Collectors 14.08.09

  • The Nordic Pavilion before the installation process started

  • A beheaded man walks out of the crate. This is Vibeke Slyngstad's oil painting of collector Mr B in the house

  • The glass facade of the bathroom is fitted in two parts

  • A view of the kitchen and dining space, with the sunken bed in the back-right corner and the green seating area to the left

Artists Elmgreen & Dragset are turning Sverre Fehn's 1962 Nordic Pavilion in Venice into a bachelor pad for their Venice Biennale exhibition The Collectors. Here, they document the process.

"We have created a home," says Michael Elmgreen about the transformation of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice. "Most of the pavilions in the Giardini have the scale of the private, so we wanted to work with that, creating this intimate setting in the middle of a very public event."

The artists Elmgreen & Dragset - best known for recreating a Prada store in the Texas desert - are charged with both the Danish and Nordic pavilions at this year's Venice Biennale, and they decided to reimagine them. Sverre Fehn's ethereal Nordic pavilion, which is arguably the masterpiece of the Giardini, has been turned into a bachelor pad influenced by David Hockney paintings and Californian Case Study Houses from the 1950s - complete with bathroom, kitchen and swimming pool.

The carefully selected artworks and design pieces reveal the obsessive character of the fictional inhabitant, Mr B, a gay bachelor and collector. "Collecting is often written about in terms of what's hot and what's not," says Elmgreen, "but it has a much more complicated psychology that 
we were interested in exploring."

Berlin-based Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have selected pieces by artists whose work Mr B would be likely to collect. In the line-up are artists Tom of Finland, Terence Koh and Wolfgang Tillmans, designers Norway Says and fashion designers Han & Him. All of these - apart from the late Tom of Finland - collaborated with the duo in the making of this environment. "It's a gesamtkunstwerk basically," says Elmgreen. "So there was no space for primadonnas. Everyone involved had to give up some of their integrity."

After the opening this month, Elmgreen & Dragset will further domesticate the space with the addition of scantily dressed men playing the role of Mr B's friends. And Mr B himself? "Oh, he is represented by a wax figure floating face-down in the pool," says Elmgreen.

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Tom of Finland's artwork had arrived. The climate in the pavilion is extremely poor for exhibiting works on paper, so a special case is built for these drawings (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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The techy stuff for William E Jones' porn-related video works is installed under the sunken bed, as is the soundtrack by Nico Muhly that plays continuously (image: Courtesy of Elmgree & Dragset)

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Michael Elmgreen despairs when he finds out they have punctured a gas pipe while digging the pool) (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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Workmen anchoring a pillar by the seating area (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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Han & Him's idea sent via SMS (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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While some art pieces were borrowed from the artists, others were commissioned specifically, such as this artwork by Han & Him. It's a display of swimwear belonging to Mr B's ex-lovers (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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Mr B's bathroom has been turned into a performance space by the addition of a glass wall, framing the activities inside. Elmgreen & Dragset designed this piece themselves (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)



Johanna Agerman

quotes story

Most of the pavilions in the Giardini have the scale of the private, so we wanted to work with that, creating this intimate setting in the middle of a very public event

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The Nordic Pavilion was designed by Sverre Fehn in the late 1950s and was completed in 1962. Elmgreen & Dragset are currently digging a pool outside, but it was delayed when they hit a gas pipe (image: Courtesy of Elmgreen & Dragset)

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