Art Zealous caught up with Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset (Elmgreen & Dragset) at the debut of their newest installation “Van Gogh’s Ear” (above)—a retro, upturned pool placed in Rockefeller Center Plaza (on view through June 3).


A non-functional Prada store permanently installed in Texas flatlands; Upper East Side’s Galerie Perrotin transformed into the rich but somber bedroom of a fictional architect towards the end of his life; Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary art converted into a fictional art fair. This is just a small sampling of the fascinating architectural and design minded works by Elmgreen & Dragset. The duo creates immersive and subversive works, which engage with everything from gay culture to art history to international relations. The leitmotif in their work is a consistent disruption of the space they inhabit. See what the artists have to say on travel, film and their newest work below.


Elmgreen & Dragset (Ingar Dragset, left; Michael Elmgreen, right), Photo: Elmar Vestner
Elmgreen & Dragset (Ingar Dragset, left; Michael Elmgreen, right), Elmar Vestner


AZ: Hometowns?

Ingar Dragset: We live in Berlin, the both of us. That’s where we have our studio.

Michael Elmgreen: Originally we are from Norway and Denmark


AZ: You’re both working in Berlin. How does travel play into your art practice?

ID: Traveling for us is where we have more time to be creative. When we’re in the studio in Berlin, we’re so busy actually organizing everything with our team and our assistants; it all gets so business-like. When we travel we’re in boring hotel rooms, we’re waiting for a delayed plane, we can actually talk about ideas and where we want to go next.


AZ: Does New York inspire you at all?

ME: This work is specially made site-specific for Rockefeller Plaza or an urban setting. We often start getting inspiration from the spatial features and the architecture.


AZ: How did Rockefeller Center contribute to this piece?

ME: It’s so busy of an area. There’s so much business going on and it’s so East Coast, you can hardly imagine a world outside Rockefeller Plaza when you’re here. We wanted to do something that reminded people of another kind of lifestyle, like lazy days under the sun in California.

Elmgreen & Dragset "Prada Marfa," Flickr/Monica D.
Elmgreen & Dragset “Prada Marfa,” Flickr/Monica D.


AZ: It’s very antithetical. Does camp or nostalgia play into your interests as artists?

ME: More nostalgia than camp.

ID: Nostalgia can be quite a strong force for us actually. Nostalgia can have an even radical impact or tension.


AZ: Do you intend [“Van Gogh’s Ear”] to be political?

ID: We’re never up front. We don’t want to be up front provocative but we want people to of course to think and to take a pause and make their own theories around what the work is about. This is an empty pool raised up on its side. You have to fill it with your own thoughts and imagination.


AZ: Do you have favorite spots in New York?

ME: We hang out a lot on the Lower East Side.

ID: I feel like every time we come back there’s something new to see. Now we have to see the Whitney Museum, which wasn’t here the last time we were here. The Met Breuer, which is brand new. That’s super exciting.


AZ: Why Van Gogh for this piece?

ME: We wanted to make a 50s style pool—speaking about nostalgia. These old school swimming pools are often kidney-shaped. When we were doing the design of it we actually found that our pool looked more like an ear and what is the most famous ear in the world? Van Gogh’s ear. Also, playing into the notion of the ultimate masterpiece—simple, everyday object , like the swimming pool, being turned into something else.


AZ: What art have you seen recently?

ID: We get more inspired by film, than by other artists. We work in art everyday so for us seeing a film can be something more psychological.

ME: There was an amazing Anri Sala show at the New Museum that was just down. The [Peter] Fischli and [David] Weiss show (on view through April 27) is really fun and we like other artist groups. Since we work together we feel a special connection to other artist duos working together.


AZ: What are films that you have seen recently?

ID: The filmmaker Joachim Trier, who’s also from Norway, presented his latest film this weekend at Angelika Film Center. It’s called Louder Than Bombs. It was filmed in New York, so he actually moved here to make it. It was amazing to meet him and hear him talk about his experience with finding the most exciting locations.