In Broken Square, Elmgreen & Dragset’s new large-scale installation on the ground floor of Perrotin Paris, the artists continue their ongoing interest in how we interact with spatial contexts. Here, the entire room seems to have chewed up an expanse of urban streetscape. The massive, broken shards of asphalt stack up like the wreckage left in the wake of an arctic icebreaker and recall both Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (1824) and early land art projects by Michael Heizer and Richard Long. Their flat black surfaces are embedded here and there with the remnants of common street fixtures – the anchor pole for a lost traffic sign, twisted metal that may have once been a bike rack. These tools that once were used both to limit and to encourage social use of public space are now gone or at least useless. But what happened to them, who is to blame, and what comes next are questions left for the viewer to puzzle out.
Examined in strictly formal terms, this composition in black, grey, and silver has a unified beauty. Yet it is just as undeniable that viewers would feel inconvenienced if they encountered a similar – albeit probably less pristine – stack of debris on the street. Through the artists’ finely-tuned design decisions, we as viewers are able to perceive this image of dysfunctional public space in a dangerously pleasing manner. The installation not only raises questions about our shared public spaces, but also about the setting of the gallery itself, by displacing the broken pieces of the street and presenting them within the bourgeois grandeur of the private gallery room.