Spot #1: What a pity that there was no Christmas cucumber

Pickled cucumbers on the Christmas tree. That is an old tradition in the United States. A small pickled cucumber, usually in the style of a glass bauble, is hung amidst the branches of an already decorated tree.

The person who finds it first receives an additional gift, or at least gets to be the first to unwrap a gift. Due to the dark green colour of the vegetable, which is very similar to that of the tree, the cucumber is often not so easy to spot. Which is perhaps what makes this tradition so appealing and may awaken the inner Sherlock in us. The origin of this custom is not entirely clear, many US-Americans think it comes from Germany. But in most German regions this tradition is completely unknown.

In artistic circles, however, the works of the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm are more well-known than this quirky Christmas tradition. Wurm questioned the basic rules of sculpture and came to the conclusion that sculpturing is working with capacity as is gaining and losing weight. Alongside the resulting works Fat Cars and Fat Houses he attained popularity through his so called One Minute Sculptures. Within the framework of this series of works, museum visitors are invited to become a sculpture for one minute. Small drawings, sometimes also a short description on or next to supposedly everyday-objects, explain the actions that visitors can perform

The artist himself did not portray himself as such a One Minute Sculpture but as a series of, you might guess, pickled cucumbers. In his work of 2008 Selbstportrait als Gurken (Self-Portrait as Cucumbers), he presents more than a dozen different pickled cucumbers, each standing individually on white pedestals. In 2011 five larger-than-life specimens of the vegetable even made it to Salzburg on the Walk of Modern Art.

Admittedly, if there were a Walk of Fame for the most comprehensive literary contributions to contemporary sculpture, this article would probably not get a (three dimensional) star on the boulevard. At the editorial meeting for the December newsletter we therefore decided against the cucumber. And also against glittering flashing poinsettias. And grouchy reindeer suffering from burnout. And against all the other unfinished ideas, sketches and notes on a large sheet of paper with coffee stains.

"Gurken" - Erwin Wurm - Furtwänglerpark in Salzburg, © Tourismus Salzburg
"Gurken" - Erwin Wurm - Furtwänglerpark in Salzburg, © Tourismus Salzburg


But that was last year. No! That was in the last decade! In 2020 we want to be more courageous. We are looking forward to presenting unfinished things, celebrating the non-sensical and allowing the mischevious. And stumble together. Be open to constructive arguments.

For all the above we created a new category in the sculpture network magazine: Spot.

Fun fact finale: Erwin Wurm actually wanted to become a painter. But at the academy he was only accepted in the sculpture class. Without this supposed dead end there would be no self-portraits as a pickled cucumber today.

Here’s to the beauty and grace of failure.


Author: Elisabeth Pilhofer

Munich based freelance editor and curator Elisabeth Pilhofer will definitely have a pickled cucumber on her Christmas tree this year.

Title: Pickled Cucumber on Christmas Tree. Photo: Franzi Bährle

About the author

Elisabeth Pilhofer

Elisabeth Pilhofer is a freelance editor and cultural manager based in Munich.


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