Urs Fischer defies description. Zurich-born, he lives and works in a downtown Brooklyn loft, is covered in tattoos, and chooses to picture himself prone, yellow-tank-top clad, and snuggling a bug-eyed Chihuahua; he is an artist known to turn expectations on their heads. He finds ever riper—or more rotten, as it were—ways to challenge the idea of “the exhibition,” despite decades of scholarship which have declared that endeavor either no longer relevant, no longer compelling, impossible, or some combination therein. He is interested in the visceral, the material qualities of things—the natural trajectory of decay and destruction—and has at the same time a mathematical, constructive and calculating mind. His works—referred to in elusive terminology such as “walk-in tableaux,” “site-specific trompe l’oeil environments,” or simply “large-scale installations”—integrate a striking precision and meticulousness with a seemingly effortless quality of off the cuff and tongue-in-cheek (minus the cheek, to avoid cliché).
Marguerite de Ponty, currently on view at the New Museum, is the artist’s first large-scale solo exhibition in an American Museum. Occupying all three gallery floors, the show integrates material from Fischer’s last four years of production—even including works which were scandalously (rumor has it) “in process” up until the very day preceding the opening. Anyone expecting to witness his familiar antics—in 2007, he literally reduced Gavin Brown’s Enterprise to a crater in the floor, he has been known to utilize rotting fruit or loaves of bread as media, and to enlist live parakeets as his artistic collaborators—will not be disappointed, though his jabs rightly take new shape, this time.
Food abounds: Floor Three presents a(n) (ever-staler) croissant, crescent-moon-like, which dangles from a nearly invisible string at viewer’s mouth level and upon which is tenuously perched a brilliant blue butterfly, mid-flight. Floor Two is occupied by an army/landscape of mirrored cubes which vary in size and shape and onto which Fischer has silkscreened a hallucinogenic array of images, including balloonish fruit loops oozing viscous milk, and a gargantuan slab of top sirloin—raw, sinewy, and resembling some (exquisite) corpse. There are other items, too, of course—an Empire State souvenir topped by a Godzilla figurine, a gorgeous turquoise high-heel, a cardboard cut-out of Ashanti, to name a few. These have been photographed from a number of angles and projected onto the chrome boxes in such a way as to emulate, Cubism-like, the simultaneous reception of an item which is viewed from each and every possible perspective (or at least a few of them) at the same time. The surfaces reflect one another and reflect the reflections of one another ad infinitum, and the viewer feels lost in an unending Wonderland-ish maze of “Honey, I Blew Up the World of Objects.”
There are shifts in scale. There are moments in which the viewer feels implicated in the enactment of a dream, psychedelic and fantastical. Monumental, anthropomorphic crags, pre-historic fossils, tower above heads or dangle precariously from the ceiling, rotund, billowing, and silver-grey like cartoon-hippos. A bubble-gum-pink streetlight which has sprouted superfluous limbs and seems to be made of wax melts and contracts towards the floor as if suffering from stomach cramps, collapsing in on itself in the manner of Dali’s infamous clocks. Objects seem to pulse, to expand, to dilate and deflate.
Do not fear: his objects are pieces of work, but Fischer would not be Fischer if he were to neglect the exhibition space, itself. For Marguerite, he manipulates the viewer’s sense of himself in relation to the gallery—not to mention the gallery’s relation to itself—in a mind-boggling and disorienting new way: on Floor Three, he has “turned the Museum’s architecture into an image of itself,” photographing every inch of the room and projecting this image onto the walls like wallpaper, “a maddening exercise in simulation.” These walls are no longer white, either, but are instead awash in an evening sky gradation of indigo-to-violet, a horizon in the moments before black falls. Watch out for the sassy, provocative Noisette, which—for the sake of preserving mystery—will here be described only as a clever, perfectly Fischer-esque allusion to Marcel Duchamp’s Étant Donnés.
The title for Fischer’s show is apt: one of many pseudonyms for French poet and critic Stephane Mallarmé, Marguerite de Ponty is and was an illusion, a construction of sorts, a symbol of Mallarmé’s interest in fiction, reality, time, and space. De Ponty represents an investigation of the terms in which and by which we define and conceive ourselves and our world; in this pursuit, she has much in common with Mister Fischer.
Images: Noisette, 2009. Mixed mediums, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich; Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photograph by Benoit Pailley; Cupadre, 2009. Fishing line, croissant, and butterfly, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist; Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York; Sadie Coles HQ, London; and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich. Installation view of Service Francaise. Courtesy the artist; Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich; and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photograph by Benoit Pailley.