Artistic Duos

Photographs: Gareth McConnell

In an age of outsize egos, some artists have chosen to pair up to present a single, seamless vision. Linda Yablonsky reports on today’s talented twosomes.

Photographs: Gareth McConnell

The first-ever collaborative to represent the United States at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla are best known for the geopolitical and cultural metaphors they’ve mined from daily life. In their most hypnotic performance work, Stop, Repair, Prepare, a pianist stands in a hole cut into the center of a vintage Bechstein grand piano and plays Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (one of Hitler’s favorite songs and the anthem of the European Union) from inside the instrument while pushing it around a gallery with great effort. As with any longtime couple, there’s plenty of “conversation, discussion, and argumentation,” says Lisa Freiman, the Indianapolis Museum of Art curator heading up the U.S. Pavilion. Only in their case, she adds, “they argue with each other incessantly until they get to a point where they both agree. So it’s very productive.” Allora and Calzadilla are shown here installing Scale of Justice Carried by Shore Foam, 2010, part of a recent exhibition at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris.

Photographs: Gareth McConnell

The art world’s veteran pranksters, Peter Fischli and David Weiss have long reveled in life’s randomness and banality. Objects from their studio fly, roll, and explode into one another in their now classic video “The Way Things Go.” A duo since 1979, they make ample use of the handmade and ready-made junk they find all around. But the element of surprise in their collaboration is paramount: For a series of garden portraits, one of them shot an entire roll of film, then rewound it so that the other could shoot the same roll again. Despite the slapstick, there’s clearly a method to their madness. “We never go directly for jokes,” Weiss once noted, “but if the joke is good enough to be inside of something else, then it’s okay.” The pair is shown here preparing for their first major solo exhibition in Japan, at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, which runs through December.

Photographs: Gareth McConnell

Collaborators since 1995, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have sent museum packing cases crashing through the ceiling of a gallery in Berlin and built a sculpture made to look like a Prada store on a desolate strip of Texas highway. For the 2009 Venice Biennale, the Scandinavian duo (seen above in London) conceived of the Nordic and Danish Pavilions as two distinctly quirky homes, one inspired by Austin Powers, the other by Ingmar Bergman. In their new show, opening November 7, the conceptual mischief-makers explore celebrity culture via a housing complex and a grand ballroom they’ve erected inside Germany’s ZKM/Museum of Contemporary Art. The pair’s artistic partnership grew out of their romantic one, which ended six years ago. “We were spending all our time together anyway,” says Elmgreen, “and collaborating means that even if everyone else in the world misunderstands what you do, at least one person knows what it’s about.”