Walter van Beirendonck and Erwin Wurm’s Performative Sculptures

There are plenty of obvious reasons that Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, in preparation for his summer solo show at Antwerp’s Middelheim museum, would have invited Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck to engage in a collaborative project: Both are known for blurring the line between fashion and sculpture, both deal with notions of space and volume as they relate to the human body, and neither is one to shy away from the grand gesture. Wurm says he’d long been a fan of van Beirendonck’s work before the pair batted ideas back and forth for their new “Performative Sculptures” series, essentially five people hired to walk around the museum garden wearing giant headless costumes made of tutu tulle.

But there are also not-so-obvious similarities that led the two artists to this apex, including the amusing — if coincidental — point that they both failed their art-school entrance exams. Wurm had spent his youth wanting to be a painter, but was rejected from the painting department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and consigned to the sculpture program instead; while he now works across many mediums, he’s best known for his One-Minute Sculptures, in which he directs someone to pose with a bucket on his head, or a shirt tented over his body, only long enough for Wurm to snap a photo. They’re a kind of precursor to his work with Van Beirendonck, who for his part failed to get accepted to Antwerp’s Royal Academy on his first try — he had to spend a preparatory year polishing his drawing skills before going on to become one of the school’s biggest stars. Van Beirendonck’s professional hiccup certainly had less of a transformative effect than Wurm’s did, but his talent for illustration has been an integral part of his process ever since, which is why Sight Unseen asked his studio for the drawings behind the “Performative Sculptures” series as a way of visualizing how the idea evolved. View them here, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Antwerp either August 6 at 8PM or September 25 at 4PM, don’t miss the chance to see them in person.