Happy Days for home-grown artist in the Big Apple

Michael Elmgreen’s co-written unconventional performance piece is wowing audiences in Britain and America


‘Happy Days in the Art WorldÂ’, an 80-minute performance piece co-written by Danish artist Michael Elmgreen and starring British actor Joseph Fiennes, is after rave reviews in Britain taking America by storm at the currently ongoing Performa 11, the New Visual Art Performance Biennial in New York City. 

Putting a contemporary spin on the age-old theatre presentation, Elmgreen together with his one-time Norwegian boyfriend turned creative partner, Ingar Dragest, make up the duo better known in the art world as Elmgreen & Dragset, and their piece of performance art is actually loosely based on their own relationship.

The play is flooded with satirical symbols of the contemporary art world – one that consists of pretentious collectors, exchanges of large sums of money, and an extreme focus on celebrity – and has caught the attention of theatre bigwigs in New York City.

“The play conveys both the deep absurdity and vitality of the art world now, in a sort of 21st century version of ‘Red’, John Logan’s play about Mark Rothko and the art world of the 1950s,” Performa’s founder, RoseLee Goldberg, told the New York Times.

Dragset confirmed these sentiments but maintained the significance of his and Elmgreen’s relationship being portrayed in front of the masses. “It’s like a jester putting up a mirror to the king,” Elmgreen, a self-taught artist who was born in Copenhagen, told the newspaper. “It’s no more critical of the art world than it is of ourselves.”

The experimental play has been well-received by international audiences and praised by critics for taking artistic risks. “The play is, of course, an artistic cut above the ordinary, in its sources and casting,” British newspaper The Scotsman wrote.

The play has also been praised for its dark and subversive comedy, and its ‘Scandinavian-esque’ simplistic way of telling a story. Deemed “one of the best single shows” in a review by Herald Scotland, the piece fuses the personal history of Elmgreen and Dragset with the modern art scene, describing how their artistic success could not have been achieved without mutual dependence.

“You wouldn’t even be half the artist you are now, and considering you are already just 50 percent of an artistic duo — half an artist, to be exact — there is not much left at all if your partner vanishes,” one character states about trying to remain prominent on the art scene.

Revealing, personal themes are nothing new for the duo. Their collective work has included a long line of sculptures, photography exhibitions and large installation pieces in addition to performances. Throughout their careers, the pair have been known to forge their own path by creating art in a way that can be exhibited and experienced while pushing the comfort zones of those who experience it.

For example, in their ongoing photography exhibition at Thorvaldsens Museum, the collaborative duo have put a wry, provocative spin on eight classical Thorvaldsen sculptors by dressing them up – in tube socks, sweat bands, backpacks and tight white underwear – and taking their pictures.

Their romantic relationship might have failed, but as an art duo Elmgreen and Dragset are proving to be an unstoppable team, both back home in Scandinavia and in theatres abroad.

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