Though the Bass Museum is well air-conditioned inside, that sense of enveloping heat and the acute awareness of bodies and objects planted in the jelly of a petri dish are very much retained in Wurm's show. One of his works, Mies van der Rohe – melting, which is an acrylic sculpture of a Miesian high rise (roughly 1,1 metre tall) in a static pool of itself, speaks with particular clarity to this weighty sense of measured, stagnant collapse. Other works, which wrap invisible torsos in bronze jackets (House I, House II) or skeletal furniture in warm sweaters (Architecture), seem to be reviving cold bodies and cold design from hypothermia. Wurm stretches wool sweaters over the cold, white walls — Knitted Wall II (metal pink) and Knitted Wall (mental purple). And his The bob sculptures — large polystyrene and paint suggestions, which range in height from roughly 2 to 3 metres and crowd one room like strangers on a dance floor — invite the imagination to tuck itself behind the knee or into the warm belly button (or worse) of a Rubens nude for a cozy siesta. There are other symbols of heat: boiling blood pressure in Wurm's Anger Sculptures: maquette buildings that he's pulverized before casting into bronze and titling Beat And Treat.
As stated in the museum's description, Beauty Business is also the name of a comic book that the artist used to hide from his parents, in various locations of his childhood bedroom. The show shares with this anecdote a thrilling sense of deviance and hint-hint. The very different artworks in the show all seem to delight in a game of "I know something you don't know" — or, perhaps, hide and seek. Walls are hidden, shapes are hidden, booze is hidden, function is hidden, bulges are hidden, references are hidden — sometimes … just as often names are dropped (Giacometti, Munch, Calvin Klein, Francis Bacon, Pollock, and many others), and abstract figures feel like the pay-off of a good peep show.
Like the alcohol concealed in Wurm's "drinking sculptures," the ideas embedded in this exhibition may also cause a sort of depressive hangover — despite being a very clever and humorous show, Beauty Business is also devastating
Beauty Business: Erwin Wurm
Bass Museum of Art
Through 25 March, 2012