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May 19, 2010 

New York-based bad-boy artist Urs Fischer is the subject of the first monographic survey at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center, the art space in verdant Greenwich, Conn., opened a year ago by super-collector Peter Brant. On Tuesday, Brant had the press up to bear witness to the impressive debut, which goes on view from May 19, 2010 through spring 2011.

"Oscar the Grouch," as the exhibition is titled, displays all of the artist’s usual insouciance, which tellingly looks a lot more at home in the private preserve of a rich guy than it did at the New Museum last year. For those who’ve been keeping track of the artist’s more perplexing art gestures, the Brant example gives a sense of how such works might fit perfectly into someone’s private trophy case.

For instance, "Oscar the Grouch" prominently features Fischer’s much-lauded work You, first seen at Gavin Brown’s Space, Oct. 25-Dec. 22, 2007. At the art gallery, the work involved excavating an enormous pit at great expense, allowing visitors to explore a huge, unadorned hole in the earth. The gesture is recreated at the Study Center, digging up a large gallery, leaving only a small margin around the edge untouched -- and it feels very much the same. (The pit is overlooked, on a ledge high above the space, by some stuffed pigeons by Maurizio Cattelan, a relic of the previous show at the space, "Remembering Henry’s Show: Selected Works 1978-2008.")

According to Brant, he purchased You from an edition of one. The medium is described as "excavation residue."

Perhaps the flashiest work in the show, however, is the elaborate, hyper-realistic photo wallpaper installation Abstract Slavery. Brant says he bought this work from Tony Shafrazi Gallery, where it was part of the much-talked-about "Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?" show, May 9-July 12, 2008. There, Fischer had papered the walls with exact scale images of Shafrazi’s walls from the previous show at the gallery, complete with images of hanging artworks and standing gallery guards. But Brant didn’t get that wallpaper. Instead, in Greenwich, Fischer used images of the walls of rooms in the collector’s own home, thus offering up a vivid, 2D rendition of works from his famous art trove (Brant pointed out a pencil Andy Warhol drawing in a corner, his first art purchase) and book collection from his library (which, it seems, includes an entire wall of monographs on Warhol).

Asked about how much of a collaboration the show was with the artist, Brant said that "Oscar the Grouch" was the product of many meetings, though these were less about any artistic proposition, and more about "friendship."

Overall, the exhibition reads as a full-on anti-art homage to a collector’s power. In addition to the recreation of his library and study, "Oscar the Grouch" includes a one-fourth scale recreation of the Brant Study Center itself, large enough for visitors to slouch through.

Two mirrored box sculptures that greet visitors at the Foundation’s entrance are similar to those included in Fischer’s New Museum show, but were custom built for "Oscar the Grouch." They are inscribed on their various sides with hyper-detailed images of an onion and a can of Diet Coke, respectively. Foundation director Alison Brant (who is Peter Brant’s daughter) noted that, in a way, the Diet Coke image was also an allusion to the man behind it all, since Brant is often to be spotted with a can of the soda (Fischer, however, disputed the characterization).

Fischer has also created two slightly larger-than-life sculptural portraits of Peter Brant made from candles, to be lit during the Foundation’s opening hours. "I imagine my head will be gone in a few weeks," Brant noted casually of one of the man-candles.

Many art fans find Fischer’s candle works to be among his most affecting, as the image slowly melts down to nothing, in the meanwhile apparently destroying a valuable work of art. Not so, as it turns out: Brant said that once the candle was gone, Fischer would simply manufacture a new one for him.

On a similar note, when the artist was asked if he would be sad to see the ravishingly detailed, site-specific wallpaper work be destroyed at the end of the show’s run, he explained that this was the wrong way to think about the gesture. "The data exists forever," he said. "We can do it again anytime."

Finally, what about that title? No one on hand seemed to have much of an idea what "Oscar the Grouch" referred to -- which is just Fischer’s style. What is certain, however, is that it the show makes quite an impact.

Visits to the Study Center are by appointment only. Up next are two more monographic shows, first Josh Smith, and then David Altmejd.

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