Thomas Hirschhorn  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Thomas Hirschhorn (born in Bern, 1957) is a Swiss contemporary installation artist who came to international attention with his "perishable monuments".



In the 1980s he worked in Paris as a graphic artist. He was part of the group of communist graphic designers called Grapus. These artists were concerned with politics and culture, displaying impromptu creations and posters on the street mostly using the language of advertisement. He left Grapus to create the hypersaturated installations he is known for today, using common materials such as cardboard, foil, duct tape, and plastic wrap. These installations are often site specific and outside the gallery, and/or interactive.

Perishable monuments

Bataille Monument

Thomas Hirschhorn came to international attention with his perishable monuments. Neglecting material worth, his work encompasses diverse sculptural models in an impoverished taste for the product wrappings of consumer industry such as aluminum foil, plastic, cardboard and plywood. Following a logic of ephemerality, Hirschhorn’s perishable monuments to Benedict de Spinoza (Amsterdam, 1999), Gilles Deleuze (Avignon, 2000), Georges Bataille (2002, Kassel) and Antonio Gramsci, reflected upon communal commitment and “the quality of internal beauty” (Hirschhorn). Also, Hirschhorn has had a longstanding dispute with the Austrian author and Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. Jelinek contests that the school of Marxism to which Hirschhorn subscribes underplays the importance of certain issues that many feminist Marxists see as essential to class struggle. Hirschhorn however has refused to recant his position and maintains that his it is not discriminatory towards women.


Environmentalist Swiss author Ira Spoerry has criticised Hirschhorn on a number of occasions, arguing that his abundant use of non-recycled cardboard and synthetic products sends an adverse message about the glamour of over-consumption. She contended that for every square meter of cardboard used in one of his installations, he throws away some seven square meters in failed attempts. Others have defended Hirschhorn, saying that his use of materials is no more wasteful than that of more conventional artists.


"I'm interested in the 'too much,' doing too much, giving too much, putting too much of an effort into something. Wastefulness as a tool or weapon."

"I do not want to invite or oblige viewers to become interactive with what I do; I do not want to activate the public. I want to give of myself to such a degree that viewers confronted with the work can take part and become involved, but not as actors."

He received the (2000/2001) Marcel Duchamp Prize and the Joseph Beuys Prize in 2004.

See also

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