Elmgreen & Dragset Make Over Munich

© Felix Hörhager/dpa/Corbis

The artists helped revamp the city with a little help from their friends.

When cities need a makeover, they don’t call stylists—they call artists. Stodgy old Munich, known for beer halls and bourgeois livability, rang up the provocative duo known as Elmgreen & Dragset and appointed them creative directors of the whole city for nine months. Michael Elmgreen (speaking from London) and Ingar Dragset (from Berlin) talked to Departures about how they enlisted 15 other artists to program work for Munich’s public plazas, now on view in places where you’d least expect them.

Q: Why did the city call you?

Michael Elmgreen: Munich is so well functioning that it needs to be challenged. Our project is about how cities profile themselves, in terms of tourism and business, and how they become that image.

Q: Your piece It’s Never Too Late to Say Sorry involves someone shouting that phrase once a day through a megaphone on Odeonsplatz.

Ingar Dragset: Odeonsplatz is famous for being the site of Hitler’s speeches, and that becomes part of the narrative of the work. But it’s an open statement—everyone can take it personally, too.

Q: One of the artists you enlisted is making a puddle—why?

I.D.: Berlin Puddle is by Kirsten Pieroth. It’s rainwater sucked into cans in Berlin, shipped down and poured into a square in Munich. Berlin has the reputation of being a young party city.

M.E.: I’m sure the rain particles will be dirtier and artier than rain puddles normally are in Munich.

Q: Can that change the character of the city—“just add water”?

M.E.: The public spaces are completely deserted after 10 p.m. So hopefully artworks in the streets will get people to come out more.