Urs Fischer’s Funhouse

11/09/2009 9:45 PM |

An unexpected note of restraint permeates Urs Fischer's major solo exhibition of recent work Marguerite de Ponty at the New Museum (through January 7). For an artist still in his mid-30s who’s been known to drill holes in gallery floors and walls, or create massive sculptural installations like a cabin made of bread, a tree made of picture frames and a 20-something foot-tall teddy bear-like figure, the objects spread throughout the three floors of this show are practically self-effacing (sometimes intentionally so). Even compared to Fischer’s previous appearance at the New Museum—one of his nude wax sculptures that melted into a puddle by the end of Unmonumental—the pieces in this exhibition are surprisingly elusive.

All three floors of the show (each level is a nearly self-contained installation) have at least one thing in common: they plunge the viewer into completely unfamiliar spatial experiences. Or, as Massimiliano Gioni, the organizer of the exhibition, put it on opening day: “We hope that it will feel like a walk through Urs’ mind.” Marguerite de Ponty isn't exactly a series of artist-made fun houses—"We're tiny!", "We're in a copy of the room we're in!", "We're in a hall of mirrors filled with giant objects!"—but that's a helpful way of making sense of the exhibition.

Beginning on the 4th floor and working down, the first gallery is dominated by five giant abstract aluminum sculptures—one of which is titled "Marguerite de Ponty," a pseudonym used by the French poet Mallarme. The towering silver forms invite innumerable associations: from certain angles one resembles an elephant; another, suspended from the gallery ceiling, twists and funnels like a tornado. These are in fact tiny scraps of clay that Fischer squished and squeezed, and then cast in aluminum at a vastly increased scale. The result is both incidental and carefully, painstakingly processed, almost thoughtless miniatures turned into deliberate monuments.

Fischer is exploring an alchemical process here, producing complex aluminum copies out of very organic, earthy originals. He's also playing with the concept of authorship and identity: his giant fingerprints are all over these works, but unlike the clay pieces, creating the aluminum replicas involved a small army of studio assistants and engineers. These giant prints—evidence of the author's hand—are criss-crossed by the seams of the aluminum panels that make up the work, which bare testament to the hand of "Urs Fischer," the artist studio. These motifs—transformations of scale and medium, slippages between originals and copies, distorted perception—recur throughout the exhibition. Fischer emerges as a kind of trickster or magician, creating uncanny versions of mundane objects, often with a great deal of humor.

An ongoing series that provides a kind of through-line (an unstable one at that) in this show features random items—a piano and piano stool, a lamppost, a pair of crutches—that appear to be melting. Each aluminum-cast piece is painted a different pastel tone and, tucked into the vast installations on each floor, pull our attention back to something recognizable, of appropriate scale, yet not quite of this world. We are still in Fischer's uncanny universe, but it's a distorted version of our own rather than a wholly separate place. In Fischer's Funhouse tiny objects are huge, solid objects droop and drip, and rooms reappear within themselves. As the exhibition continues these manipulations only become more extreme.

On the middle floor of the show, Fischer seems to have covered the walls and ceiling in dark crimson wallpaper, with slight variations in tone here and there. As apparently random details like fire alarms, air ducts and nail marks begin to recur, the picture comes into focus: the gallery has been covered with an image of itself. He photographed every surface of the space at night after the preceding David Goldblatt exhibition was taken down, and then covered the original with the copy. Exit signs, doorways and other incidental architectural details appear a few inches out of place, suddenly gaining an unusual significance, as though by coming into this gallery we'd stepped into a primordial staging area or installation in progress, an unfinished space not quite ready to be thrust into existence.