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As a sequel to their 2013 exhibit “Tomrrow” at the Victoria Albert Museum (VAM) in London, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset present “Past Tomorrow” at Galerie Perrotin in New York. The show marks the duo’s 20 year anniversary of working together, and is their first in New York after more than 10 years of exhibitions elsewhere.
It is a continuation of the story of fictional character, the architect Norman Swann. Clues about Swann and his life can be found throughout the exhibition, which is an installation of one room of his home: a bedroom and study. The artists have written a play of sorts about Swann’s life, which viewers can take home from the gallery to discover further. Elmgreen and Dragset said at a press preview last week that they encourage visitors to act as detectives.
“Past Tomorrow” follows Swann’s life as an elder. Fogged with failure as an architect and dried out inheritance funds, he is forced to leave his home in London, and resettles into a much smaller apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. This exhibition, with the stage set as his bedroom, is filled with belongings that would have been his, relating his regrets to nostalgia, and his sorrows.
Half-smoked cigars, architectural drafts, and vintage magazines that Swann would have spent his time with are seen lining the room’s walls, while Elmgreen & Dragset’s kissing statue sits atop a seemingly unpleased piano. Worn leather shoes are seen kicked off beneath the edge of the bed, stacked suitcases rest for unplanned travels, watched over by the duo’s gold vulture statue perched on one of the bed’s pillars. There are miniature animal statues wearing faces of fear scattered in the bookshelf, sharing space with books and novels that he may never have read like “Trials of Oscar Wilde” and “The Birth of Tragedy.”
The story of Swann growing older, his apparent failures, his growing inability to conform to contemporary culture, and his stubborn refusal to accept his position within the world, is painted in this detailed picture of what his life truly was like—architecture drafts and models shoved into his closet, while posters of that year’s architectural show framed and hung straight on the nearby wall. “Failure is an underestimated virtue in society,” said Elmgreen. “A lot of interest comes out of failure—the risk of failure, and Norman was one of these people in life.”
A combination of globally sourced materials and Elmgreen & Dragset’s ready-made custom furniture supports the crumbling life of this aging character, offering a chance to be both a sleuth, and reflect on what one’s own possessions say about him or her.
“Past Tomorrow” is now on view at Galerie Perrotin in New York until May 23.