Urs Fischer

Selected Works

PLAY

2018
9 chairs, polished aluminum, powder coated aluminum, aluminum, stainless steel, brass, polyamide, fabric, electric-motors, electronics, sensors, software, fiberglass, lithium-ion batteries 
battery charging robot: aluminum, electronics, fire safety device, sensors, motors, drives
dimensions variable
photo: Chad Moore

Fischer’s art offers an extraordinarily vast range of possibilities. It is not just a question of alternating between sculpture, photography, drawing, painting, and publishing projects, and how these interact with one another, the variety also extends to materials, scale, and composition and, above all, to the spirit of the work, which constantly oscillates between the playful and the dramatic.

M. Robecchi, Welcome to Madame Fisscher in Urs Fischer – Madame Fisscher, Palazzo Grassi-François Pinault Foundation, Venice 2012

Things

2017
milled aluminium, steel, power magnets, two-component epoxy adhesive
320 x 519 x 301 cm.; 126 x 204 3/8 x 118 1/2 in.
edition of 3, plus 1 AP
photo: Stefan Altenburger

Fischer’s shows of strength vis-à-vis reality clearly possess a symbolic dimension, directed against the orthodoxies and conventions of the present age and art world. He prefers going his own, resolute way rather than aping tried-and-tested artistic strategies. In pursuing that individual path, he transports viewers into what seems like a world-free zone: Fischer’s art is anti-academic not because it refuses to engage with theory or with a complex understanding of art history – it is individual and personal because it operates on a richly intricate visual level, liberating his work from any excess of explanation and linguistic interpretation. It has the street credibility of a raw, punk gesture combined with the carefully controlled movement of a magician.

B. Curiger, Spaces Generated by Vision, Or, Basements Save Windows in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

The Kiss

2017
oil-based modeling clay, plywood, steel
186.87 x 132.8 x 154.9 cm.; 73 5/8 x 52 1/4 x 61 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Sadie Coles HQ Gallery

I like working with people, and making sculptures also means working with others. Painting is a lonely practice, of course; you have to rely more on your own hand, and there is this constant struggling with classical forms, with tradition. All that comes into sculpture, too, but it’s a collaborative effort. At the same time, I also need to do things myself, as a balance, if you will, from time to time. What I hope to do is something new every time. I get easily bored and scared of repetition.

U. Fischer and G. Matt, Skinny Sunrise, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna 2012

Cerium

2016
aluminum panel, aramid honeycomb, two-component polyurethane adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint, oil medium
203.2 x 152.4 x 2.2 cm.; 80 x 60 x 7/8 in.
photo: Mats Nordman

Fischer has expressed admiration for the prodigious production (some might say overproduction) of Dalí and Warhol, who, by churning out works long after their supposed best, defied and infuriated notions of good taste and sincerity. But whereas both these figures honed an instantly recognizable signature style – which they then arguably commodified and cashed in on in the second half of their careers in order to create a “brand” – Fischer seems to turn his restless pace of work and flow of ideas into an overarching project that itself undermines any notion of genre, medium-specificity or signature style. To pin down what exactly an “Urs Fischer” should look like would be an almost impossible task, beyond a few of his best-known series. Even as I walk around the studio, the array of works in progress and the different mediums and forms they adopt, all being made in tandem, resembles a group show more than the output of one particular artist at a certain moment.

N. Cullinan, Urs Fischer’s Objects and Images in Parkett 94, 2014

Oxygen

2015
aluminum panel, aramid honeycomb, two-component polyurethane adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint
336.6 x 269.2 x 2.2 cm.; 132 1/2 x 106 x 7/8 in.
photo: Mats Nordman

Fischer’s work is rooted in two visual strategies in wide usage: collage and the gigantic enlargement. Much of his work is built on the rudest possible yoking together of the digital detritus media culture throws off every day – and he uses the insubstantiality of images that live primarily on screens as the raw material for his art. With Fischer the mash-up is literally mashed-up, and his work vibrates with the relentless churn of popular culture.

D. Salle, Urs Fischer: Waste Management in How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking about Art, W. W. Norton & Company, New York / London 2018

2014
aluminum panel, aluminum honeycomb, two-component epoxy adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint
240 x 300 x 2.5 cm.; 94 1/2 x 118 1/8 x 1 in.
photo: Mats Nordman

Fischer frequently draws on the classical genres of art history: landscape, portraits and still lifes: “I like classical art genres – they work.” He has no qualms about the burden of tradition since he does not get specifically involved with the history of art. The classical genres are simply useful, they offer him a suitable framework for his own research into the means of transgressing traditional boundaries.

M. Varadinis, Sweet Failure – Art: Raw or Cooked? in Urs Fischer: Kir Royal, Kunsthaus, Zurich 2004

3

2014
cast bronze, acrylic primer, gesso, oil paint
58.4 x 294.6 x 172.7 cm.; 23 x 116 x 68 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Mats Nordman

It is as if we have walked into an art class after the protagonists and the female model have departed. Scattered on the ground in front of the sculptures are abandoned, half-finished remnants and small chunks and heaps of clay – signs of the modelling process of adding, and of cutting away, hollowing out and penetrating into the imagined form of a woman…. But the modelling material is not actually “genuine”: instead, it is cast out of bronze and given a patina imitating clay. The subject is less woman per se, as we now clearly see, than “art” and “art-making”.

B. Curiger, Emancipated Reveries in Mon cher… Urs Fischer, Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles 2016

Big Clay #4

2013-2014
cast aluminum, stainless steel, stainless steel bolts, wax coating, anchor bolts, stainless steel washers, stainless steel nuts, stainless steel lock washers, PVC washers, copper lightning rods
1300 x 840 x 520 cm.; 511 3/4 x 330 3/4 x 204 3/4 in.
photo: Stefan Altenburger

The aluminum sculptures… are greatly enlarged versions of forms modelled in clay. These huge works, bulging irregularly and imposing almost to the point of intimidation, recall de Kooning’s late bronzes, which consist of vastly enlarged casts of hand-sized forms. Fischer would seem to be engaging in a kind of negative dialectics, releasing a core of latent potential from de Kooning’s sculptures that wrests them from the numbing grip of sculptural history.

B. Curiger, Spaces Generated by Vision, Or, Basements Save Windows in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

Problem Painting

2012
milled aluminum panel, aluminum honeycomb, two-component polyurethane adhesive, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, spray enamel, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint
360 x 270 x 2.5 cm.; 141 3/4 x 106 3/8 x 1 in.
photo: Mats Nordman

Fischer’s paintings since 2010 – large-scale prints on aluminium panels – have consisted of collaged images of movie star headshots (taken mostly in the 1950s) that are overlaid with images of fruit, nails or other small metal objects, cigarettes, and so forth. Both the headshot and the obscuring object have been blown up to the scale of a small billboard, and the violent occupation of the face by the foreign item can at times appear graphically shocking. Fischer’s technique plays with the layering of the quality of the images, the older, murkier portrait sitting behind the perfectly lit and three-dimensionally convincing object placed on top. Despite the artist’s training as a photographer (at the erstwhile Hochschile für Gestaltung in Zurich), these works – as much as the literally three-dimensional polished mirror-boxes – function in a highly sculptural manner. Fischer’s approach to images derives more from the experience of daily life – an advertisement seen in front of a sign, beside an object on the street – rather than the graphic effect of photomontage, where one flat image is layered illusionistically on top of another.

J. Morgan, Inside, Outside, and Out There in Urs Fischer, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2013

Untitled

2011
paraffin wax mixture, pigment, steel, wicks
Urs and chair: 72.4 x 125.8 x 136.8 cm.; 28 1/2 x 49 1/2 x 53 7/8 in. 
table: 117.7 x 115.1 x 78.5 cm.; 46 3/8 x 45 3/8 x 30 7/8 in.
bottles: dimensions variable
edition of 3, plus 1 AP
photo: Fulvio Orsenigo

Wax is a very relatable and complex material. Soft. I started using household candles in my work because the flame activated the work and the melting made it change shape. I got into the idea of figurative sculptures. The results of just making them turned out to look awful. Having them as candles made more sense, it made them alive. The first few I carved by chainsaw from memory. But they had a specific look and I got bored with them. So I let it rest for some years. By working with real people as a starting point it became personal and less formal. Each person I work with brings a lot to the table and I can start from there. When the sculpture is finished you have two elements at play, the portrait and what happens to it. The melting is a natural order, wax melts and drips in similar ways regardless of the shape of a candle, the portrait is in my control. Because of its impermanence you can go places that would otherwise be difficult with sculpture. It allows the one portrayed to be natural, relaxed, since they don’t need to represent anything more than themselves.

U. Fischer, Urs Fischer: The Challenge in Muse, October 2018

Horse / Fraud

2010
silkscreen print on mirror-polished stainless-steel sheets, polyurethane foam sheets, two-component polyurethane adhesive, stainless-steel beams, aluminum L sections, screws, in four parts
marlboro, each: 127.5 x 60.4 x 75 cm.; 50 1/4 x 23 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Stefan Altenburger

In Fischer’s installation, as in real life, we encounter quotidian items from the world. Consumer goods accompany us everywhere when we walk along the street. Yet their presence here is slightly more insistent, as though the viewer perceived them while in the grip of fever. These wares, unlike those promoted by advertising, have no lifestyle appeal: they are of questionable taste and they are not new or fresh. The fruit, for example, has started to rot. The scale and significance of the objects are fraught with ambiguity. And there is an aura of willful indiscretion, like that exuded by the young, half-naked bodies that appear on gigantic billboards in the streets of our cities, spreading over sixty-story facades, twisting, turning, and leaping at the tiny passersby in acts of unsolicited harassment. To pass through Fischer’s works is to reenact this kind of urban experience in the form of a special mise-en-scène that zooms in to exclude everything incidental, all the physical trappings of the city. The facades, the walls, the cars, other people, and even oneself are either nonexistent or will sooner or later dissolve and vanish into thin air.

B. Curiger, Spaces Generated by Vision, Or, Basements Save Windows in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

Abstract Slavery

2008
wallpaper prints of photographic reproductions of interior spaces (content, scale, and lighting determined on a site-specific basis)
dimensions variable
photo: Stefan Altenburger

Fischer has used this kind of illusionistic wallpaper print in the past to document and re-create the exhibition spaces of Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, the living room of collector Peter Brant, and the New Museum. At times works by Fischer or others have been hung on top of these flat surfaces that carry the impression of the photographed space, so that a collage of three-dimensional pieces forms across the wallpaper's representational space.

J. Morgan, Inside, Outside, and Out There in Urs Fischer, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2013

Untitled (Hole)

2007
cast aluminum
540 x 340 x 270 cm.; 212 1/2 x 133 7/8 x 106 1/4 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Prudence Cummings Associates

Holes feature regularly in Fischer’s artistic repertoire. In 2007 he showed a hole at Sadie Coles HQ in London that could be viewed from below, as though illustrating the saying “die Radieschen [or “den Rasen”] von unten anschauen” – “looking at radishes [or “grass”] from below,” a German equivalent of “pushing up the daisies” as a way of stating that someone is dead and buried. On the lower floor of the building visitors could examine what appeared to be a giant metal sack – the negative form of the hole reaching down into the space below, cast in aluminium. It is tempting to view this as a new kind of sculptural experience, but applying traditional categories to Fischer’s works is always tricky. What is it – a sculpture, an installation, a gesamtkunstwerk? Such terms are far too narrow and conventional to encompass a practice that revolves around space as such and operates with the abrupt effect of images.

B. Curiger, Spaces Generated by Vision, Or, Basements Save Windows in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

Untitled (Lamp / Bear)

2005-2006
cast bronze, epoxy primer, urethane paint, acrylic polyurethane topcoat, acrylic glass, gas discharge lamp, stainless-steel framework
700 x 650 x 750 cm.; 275 5/8 x 255 7/8 x 295 1/4 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Dean Kaufman

For the over-seven-meter-high outdoor sculpture Untitled (Lamp/Bear), 2005-2006, the original two intersecting objects, a stuffed toy and a desk light, were enlarged more than tenfold and significantly altered in their respective materiality. The bear and lamp were cast in bronze and lacquered around a steel framework to ensure stability that is ironic given the visual appearance of a soft toy that collapses into itself and is propped up by the intersecting lamp. Although the sheer scale of the fusion renders the viewer very conscious of the material change and transposition, the work’s mass oppresses the intimate understanding of the working process and the “lamp/bear” appears merely as one integral object (akin to a monumental piece à la Jeff Koons). Yet at night the technical aspect of the sculpture comes to the fore and is, at the same time, subverted. When the lamp part is switched on by sending electrical discharges through a plasma (ionized gas) inside an acrylic sphere (thus resembling a huge light bulb), the beholder finds herself or himself in the glow of a “streetlamp”, which draws her or him into its pool of light that is the teddy bear’s lap. The technical proficiency required to make the light monumental in scale but intimate in its value of illumination returns the sculpture to its origin as material assemblage when the toy bear intersected a working light source.

U. Lehmann, Works to Show Work in Urs Fischer, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2013

Untitled (Bread House)

2004-2005
bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, screws, tape, rugs, theater spotlights
406 x 372 x 421 cm.; 159 7/8 x 146 1/2 x 165 3/4 in.

Untitled (Bread House) takes the form of a Swiss chalet, which in this case has a quite expertly achieved form given that instead of bricks and mortar the artist used bread loaves for the walls and roof. Drawing upon our association with the witch’s house in the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel, Fischer’s piece captures this enigmatic childhood fantasy, further embellished for the installation at Gavin Brown’s gallery in New York by the addition of two green parakeets that helped to bring about the crumbling ruin. Quite unlike the physical failing implied by much of [Dieter] Roth’s use of organic materials, Fischer’s Untitled (Bread House) instead draws upon the rich psychological terrain of childhood, the underlying refrain of the Brothers Grimm tales. And in this respect it relates and takes an insouciant twenty-first century attitude toward other historically familiar motifs similarly updated in Fischer’s work, such as the skeletal form of the danse macabre or the vanitas.”

J. Morgan, If You Build Your House On A Bed Of Rotting Vegetables in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

Kuckuck Backwards

2004
wood, aluminum, cement, sawdust, enamel paint 
162 x 200 x 64 cm.; 63 3/4 x 78 3/4 x 25 1/4 in.
photo: Stefan Altenburger

Mounted on their domestic, quotidian, seemingly readymade “plinths” Fischer’s sculptural renderings of skeletons parody the voluptuous and muscular forms of classical figurative sculpture, veritably knocking the medium off its pedestal, as it were. Indeed, it seems like the morning after or the night before a modern day danse macabre where there the skeletons are either getting over or getting ready for a big night out. Unlike the medieval Dances of Death with their gangs of frolicking skeletons, however, Fischer’s skeletons are invariably depicted on their own – as though they, too, were affected by the conditioned isolation of the modern urban individual. As prosaic as their surroundings are – characterized by washing machines, park benches and the like – and as familiar their poses, the figures seem to be less a personification of death than a formally reduced vision of contemporary human life, a grotesquely humorous allegorical reduction of the human figure to its vain and vulnerable framework.

C. Nichols, ephemerality – maybe in Urs Fischer: Werke aus der Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2005

Horses Dream of Horses

2004
plaster, resin paint, steel, nylon filament 
dimensions variable: 1,800 raindrops, each up to 17 x 7 x 7 cm.; 6 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 2 3/4 in.
photo: Stefan Altenburger

Like many of his contemporaries, he defies the logical progression of art history; he is a roaming vagabond of a producer, incorporating everything he comes across into his fairytale vision of the world in a complete renunciation of all forms of theory. He is like an intelligent child who mutates into an adult in the context of playing, without wanting to expose his childish gaze to ideologies of a better world. Without resentment he dreams with horses of horses amid a shower of blue rain. Everything that was and is art is soaked up by Fischer in order to keep his Alice in Wonderland games going.

E. Blume, white wine and cassis in Urs Fischer: Werke aus der Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2005

Kir Royal

2004
plaster, polyurethane resin, acrylic paint, gauze
45 x 30 x 35 cm.; 17 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.

With his various disembodied heads, arms, feet, and hands, as well as the extraordinary melting wax females, Fischer plunders the art historical trope of the partial figure, updating this legacy for our own time…. Their tension as objects…derives from the blunt caesura of the limbs, the un-organic manner in which the Styrofoam from which they have been modelled reverts to a cubic block at the end, and the suspension of the fragmented limbs in space. Fischer places them at the plausible height of their human parallel calling for the optical “completion” of the missing parts of the form. Despite the lack of limbs or torso there is nothing incomplete about the work…. Fischer’s decayed and fragmented forms have more life in them than many a fully representational figure.

J. Morgan, If You Build Your House on a Bed of Rotting Vegetables in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

A Place Called Novosibirsk

2004
cast aluminum, epoxy resin, iron rod, string, acrylic paint
249 x 77.5 x 105 cm.; 98 x 30 1/2 x 41 3/8 in.
edition of 2, plus 1 AP
photo: Andy Keate

In Fischer’s work, there are recurring flashes of a certain form of uselessness turned to productive use, the way drinkers in a bar will turn cigarette packets into origami-like creations, beer mats into houses of cards, and matches into matchstick men.

J. Heiser, Of Cats and Chairs in Urs Fischer: Kir Royal, Kunsthaus, Zurich 2004

What if the Phone Rings

2003
wax, pigment, wick 
figure 1: 106 x 142 x 46 cm.; 41 3/4 x 55 7/8 x 18 1/8 in.
figure 2: 200 x 54 x 46 cm.; 78 3/4 x 21 1/4 x 18 1/8 in.
figure 3: 94 x 99 x 54 cm.; 37 x 39 x 21 1/4 in.
edition of 3, plus 1 AP
photo: Markus Haugg

Two of the figures, one seated and the other reclining, rest on statuary plinths, while the third sits directly on the ground. Wicks have been inserted in their heads, legs, and buttocks such that over the course of an exhibition the women gradually melt, long drips of coloured wax resembling stringy hairs cascading down their bodies and large cavities forming at the locus of heat. Sculpturally the works represent a development of the notion of the object in flux, usually achieved through kineticism or the use of organic materials à la [Dieter] Roth. Here the forms begin life “complete” and end in a state of Medardo Rosso-like decomposition. By showing the sculpture, one commits to destroying it and this gradual obliteration is largely so compelling due to Fischer’s choice of subject: the female form. The classic ideal of beauty – albeit somewhat cartoonishly suggested in the figures’ lipstick-red mouths and bluntly graceful attitudes – is subjected to a brutal attack. The effect of which – the melting and consequent gaping holes that appear unexpectedly at the back of an otherwise facially complete head or in the upper leg of a seated figure – invokes the compelling combination of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness, a dualistic trope that Fischer has frequently employed to capture the audience’s attention. Lust and disgust, and the surprising proximity of the two, are placed in a dialectical relationship and we move around the decomposing figures transfixed by the two simultaneous readings.

J. Morgan, If You Build Your House on a Bed of Rotting Vegetables in Urs Fischer: Shovel In A Hole, New Museum, New York 2009

Mr. Flosky

2001-2002
wood, latex paint, lamp, cable, plaster, polystyrene, glass, glue, screws
stove: 98.5 x 105 x 59 cm.; 28 3/4 x 41 3/8 x 23 1/4 in.
cat: 33.5 x 46 x 14.5 cm.; 13 1/4 x 18 1/8 x 5 3/4 in.

The cat acts like an agent of varying aesthetic experience, plunging the distinction between figure and ground, between perceived object and perceiving subject, into the kind of ambivalence that has long been inherent within it. As well as touching on a traditional problem of sculpture – its situational relation to place – this can also be grasped as an appeal to introduce such an animating “cat function” into one’s own thought and work.

J. Heiser, Of Cats and Chairs in Urs Fischer: Kir Royal, Kunsthaus, Zurich 2004

Gänseeier Eclipse

2001-2002
two goose or chicken eggs, nylon filament, glue, theatre spotlight dimensions variable
edition of 2, plus 1 AP

Fischer upends the chapters of a history book in which projection, for the ancient painters, assured the transfer of the face or the egg onto the wall or the canvas. For Fischer, heading backward, it is about introducing himself into the “real” space, to call a space into being through projection. A space, not objects: the space does not cohere merely in order to vampirize the objects – Fischer empties them of all substance, he splits them, reducing them to shadows.

P. Falguières, Urs Hero: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Urs Fischer – Madame Fisscher, Palazzo Grassi-François Pinault Foundation, Venice 2012

Madame Fisscher

1999-2000
mixed media
dimensions variable
photo: Stefan Altenburger

Playing on the ambiguity between personal and public, with a title that refers simultaneously to the artist’s identity and to the name of the most famous wax museum in the world – a place where history is crystallized and recounted in real time exclusively through a fetishistic reproduction of its protagonists – Madame Fisscher is, in fact, a restaging of the artist’s studio during his stay in London. Sketches, models, notes, disparate furnishings, walls, and an entire sampling of objects that usually characterize such places are presented in a panoramic perspective that captures the artist’s imagination and the driving force behind all his work.

M. Robecchi, Welcome to Madame Fisscher in Urs Fischer – Madame Fisscher, Palazzo Grassi-François Pinault Foundation, Venice 2012