Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but few people are likely to think faecal matter is beautiful or worthy of being the subject of an exhibition.
But that’s exactly what visitors at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans van Beuningen can see: giant, imposing sculptures of turds.
Four sculptures make up the “Vorm - Fellows - Attitude” exhibition, which is open until August 12.
One is a light-brown swirl pointing upwards that, from one angle, looks like the poop emoji. The second is a gigantic, dark-almost-black turd snaking its way from one room to the next while another is a three-layer construction with a gap wide enough for someone to crawl through.
The last one is a big pile — somewhat meringue like — similar to the great heap of dinosaur dung in Jurassic Park that prompts Jeff Goldblum’s befuddled character to utter: “That’s one big pile of shit.”
They were made by the Vienna-based art collective Gelatin.
'It's not a joke'
“The shit as we present it is a sculptural subject, it’s not a joke,” Wolfgang Gantner, one of the four artists making up the collective, told Euronews.
“It’s such a limiting idea of sculpture because everybody knows what it is and what it looks like so it was very interesting for us to think of it as a sculptural form,” Gantner added.
It took the collective over half a year to produce the exhibition after being commissioned by the museum.
“When we saw this gallery space the first time, we fell in love with this space. It’s a very big open gallery and we’d been longing to show something big,” Gantner explained.
Asked why the group settled on their subject matter, Gantner said: “basically the only thing we all agreed on as a big sculpture was shit.”
The four artists, which also include Ali Janka, Florian Reither and Tobias Urban, built the core sculptures in their studio in Vienna and spent the last two weeks applying coloured clay inside the exhibition space.
Now, the sculptures rest on Persian rugs and are stared at by visitors wearing naked suits featuring various shapes and sizes of male and female sexual parts.
For Gantner, the naked suits are “a gift to visitors” that enhance the exhibition and their own experience of it.
“You step into the costume and you immediately transform into another being. People don’t know anymore what your job is, if you’re rich, poor, male or female, so you forget a little bit about all these rules.”
“This exhibition has a big chance of being seen and people wake up the next morning thinking ‘Oh My God, this show was so great, I really want to see that shit again.’ Or maybe even the next time you’re in the toilet, you'll think about the exhibition, I mean how great is that?” Gantner said.
'Kids love it'
Gelatin’s work is often irreverent, brutal, prone to make the more squeamish a bit uncomfortable.
“Gelatin demand free thinking. They are exciting, deeply challenging and always make us feel uncomfortable. And yet their work — the emotion from their work — this remains with you far beyond its physical existence,” Sjarel Ex, director of the museum said on the exhibition’s website.
The four artists, who met in summer camp in 1978 have, for instance, produced a sculpture made of frozen urine and another depicting a naked man in a bridge pose urinating in his own mouth.
But they have also produced more whimsical work including a 50-metre-long pink rabbit installed in the Italian Alps where it will stay for the next 20 years. In another installation, they filled a Puerto Rican cave with hundreds of helium-filled balloons to create light.
“We try to stay alive and awake in our work. Being shocking is not our strategy,” Gantner said.
“We’re really interested in art and we try to do our job as good as we can and sometimes people think it’s provocative.”
On its website, Gelatin wrote that the show was "for all who think that contemporary art is shit. They should come and see this shit show."
So far, Gelatin’s latest exhibition in Rotterdam has drawn little criticism according to Gantner.
“Kids love it, the parents love it, the grandparents love it, people without kids love it. I have yet to hear any negative things,” he said.
So although this is an exhibition showing gigantic sculptures of faecal matter, it's up to visitors to decide whether it stinks or not.