It’s hard to think deep thoughts when you’re stood in a bucket with another bucket on your head. But that’s Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s big trick: he gets your brain going by pushing things into the absurd.
Just look at the Austin Mini in the main gallery. Wurm has plumped it up, fed it way too many burgers and left it obese. Its sides bulge, its chassis overhangs itself. It’s a ridiculous, silly thing.
Wurm works best when he lets the simplicity of his art speak for itself, because, at heart, everything here is a simple idea, with a simple execution. His now semi-iconic ‘One-Minute Sculptures’ series is the perfect example: 120 different poses anyone can hold that turn the body into a sculpture for just 60 seconds. They’re captured in giant Polaroids here: a man with bottles tucked under his arms and between his legs, two women balancing an orange between their mouths, Wurm himself with a pencil jammed in each ear. They’re dumb and basic but totally brilliant ideas. They’re everyday actions pushed just one step towards the absurd. They leave you wondering how close everything around you is to being a sculpture, to being pushed towards stupidity.
You get to do one yourself on selected days in the gallery, too. Plonk yourself in a bucket, whack another over your head, and hey presto, you’re a sculpture.
Upstairs you find more ridiculousness: body parts and ceramics, fingers and belly buttons erupting out of mounds of clay. Downstairs, little legs hold up moss-covered rocks, the weight of the world bearing down on then.
The drawings on show are a bit weak and self-indulgent, but the main problem is how glum some of this feels. The Polaroids are so dark and overthought that they come across as really miserable. It takes a certain dour skill, a special gloomy touch, to make the act of putting a bucket on your head feel joyless.
But when Wurm gets going, he makes the mundane seem extraordinary, the everyday seem hilarious, and the basic seem fascinating. We could all use a bit of that.