Urs Fischer, June 2-Aug. 7, 2005, at the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin
Art has not progresed as far as one might think. In the age of the culture industry, where the flux of capital has given us a proliferation of juvenile art objects, the exhibition by Urs Fischer in Berlin stands as an example of the immobility -- some will call it continuity -- that prevails in the contemporary art world.
Urs Fischer is a fairly young artist, born 1978 in Zurich and today based, with fashionable ubiquity, in both Berlin and Los Angeles. His current exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof follows early solo shows at the Kunsthalle Zurich and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The 12 works presented in the converted warehouse museum are all part of the infamous Flick Collection [see "Flick Collection Opens in Berlin," Sept. 20, 2004], and Fischer's works in fact bear some similarity to other art pieces in the collection by Paul McCarthy, Jason Rhodes, Dieter Roth and Franz West, among others.
That is to say, they're about boys making things.
At the entrance to the show are 30 drawings, tragicomic figurative doodles with neo-surrealist overtones, custom-framed by the artist with handmade resin frames. These works are a prolegomena to the ensemble of sculptures inside, which have been positioned by the artist in an enigmatic narrative.
Though Urs Fisher is the antithesis of German photographer Thomas Demand, whose studio coincidentally adjoins the exhibition building, both men are engaged with the concrete world. While Demand takes pictures of slick, full-scale cardboard constructions of realistic scenes (frequently bureaucratic interiors), Fischer, who is Swiss and trained as a photographer, can be said to craft three-dimensional ad hoc distortions of reality -- notably, the female figure.
Fischer's insouciance in the face of legendary Helvetic precision, however, suggests that his generation has had its fill of technology and its designed perfection. Whereas the postmodernist generation attempted to carve out its own peculiar ideal of perfection, ten years later, the younger generation has internalized with a certain passivity the violence of the modern world and now reproduces it, sometimes with ominous beauty.
Such is the case here. In his works, Fischer often presents the organic in the context of "hazard" -- for instance, as life-size 3D pinups of nude women, roughly cast in wax, complete with burning wicks, so that they self-destruct as they melt during the exhibition.
Fischer's Untitled (2000) consists of apple and pear halves screwed together to decompose in a mechanical embrace, summing up with formal economy the vain supremacy of technology over nature.
Am & pm (2001) flaunts two gory heads eccentrically made of pinkish cast polyurethane and bread dough, a material stage that takes the art object further into degradation than Bruce Nauman's wax heads, which happen to be on exhibition in a space downstairs.
Less referential, Glasskatze (1999) is an architectonic structure of broken glass on low wooden pedestals situated on an oriental carpet. The subtle reflections of the patterned rug in the shattered green glass create a poetic image of cultural chaos.
Boffer Bix Cabinet (1998), a gloomy theatrical set, displays black painted and graffitied furniture, the shadow of which, cast by raking light, is traced across the floor and walls in smeared, bloodlike jam.
The cumbersomely titled A Man and His Head like a Hand with a Bread, Unfiltered Summer / Autumn 99 Poetry and Brain Waste is five large glass plates mounted in a painted metal stand, imprinted with texts and drawings photocopied onto adhesive cellophane. It is the visual dissolution of time and thought, already tried out in Duchamp's Large Glass.
Tich Mit (1996-2001) bonds a pair of bulbous, biomorphic limbs, made with foam and girdled with twine, to the top of a plank table; Gedanken kommen zuruck, bitte (2000) features a decapitated silicon head placed on a chair facing a table, with all of the elements covered with brown-pigmented varnish. Referencing works ranging from Nauman's classic 1967 silicon cast, From Hand to Mouth, to Hollywood's Dawn of the Dead, this pair of sculptures, installed to face each other, create a brutal image of dissociation between body and mind.
Satire defeats itself, as usual. Entangled with scandal, the Flick Collection is the new monument for the tormented amnesia of Nazi perpetrators' heirs. But the political consciousness of the artist seems furtive in this loaded context and his esthetic priorities, however lumbering, tend to the decorative -- notably, a reminder of Sarah Lucas' unapologetic visual vocabulary, without the sexual and sociological puns.
The redemptive qualities for all this matter is, in the end, its self-destructive elements: melted wax, broken glass and rotten groceries. The exhibition is more relevant in the course of disintegration. It's recommended to visit the show near its end.
(NB: "Mimicry-works" is a word cited in Fischer's A Man and His Head Like a Hand with a Bread, Unfiltered Summer / Autumn 99 poetry and Brain Waste.)
WALTER KRANZ is a writer based in Berlin.