Urs Fischer’s Funhouse

11/09/2009 9:45 PM |

The room also recalls the one-paragraph Borges fable "On Exactitude in Science," in which a map of an empire is created on a one-to-one scale, blanketing the territory in a copy of itself. It's appropriation art on a grand scale: by photographing and reproducing the architecture, Fischer has made it his own. The copy doesn't quite replace the original, but it certainly overwhelms it.

The last floor of the exhibition pushes the themes of appropriation and transformation further still, magnifying small objects into big, boxy prop versions of themselves. This is where the feeling of being in an artists' funhouse becomes the most acute—in fact, according to a recent New Yorker profile, Fischer's Red Hook studio looked a lot like this gallery in the weeks before the show opened. The room is filled with 51 chromed steel boxes of various dimensions varnished to be perfect mirrors and printed with silkscreens on their five exposed sides with blown-up images of relatively unremarkable objects: shoes, cheeses, fruits, lighters and books are among the most frequently-recurring subjects.

Waking around the installation feels something like traveling through a miniature city, with its grid-like layout dominated by two tall skyscraper boxes. This is also a hall of mirrors, a trompe l'oeil on a different scale than the gallery-sized duplicate above. From different angles certain images appear reflected in one another, sometimes with museum visitors trapped in the middle. The piece, titled "Service à la française" and created especially for this exhibition, becomes a kind of self-service Dadaist collage, composed by viewers as they change positions in the space. From one corner of the gallery compounding mirrors reveal a pear on a boat in a loaf of bread; elsewhere a metronome stands under a ladder, which promises a view over a red London phone booth. The familiar objects repeat infinitely, yet are so meticulously photographed and printed that they are also fascinating as individual pieces. They form a kind of solemn monument to a culture ruled by consumption and images.

Here, again, Fischer is playing with ideas of object-hood and uniqueness, using a process of reproduction (photography) to turn unremarkable and often mass-produced items into singular works of art that in turn are nearly lost in a network of reflective surfaces. In this disorienting labyrinth, we encounter familiar objects in scales and resolutions that are wholly new. This maze of the uncanny is Fischer’s postmodern update of the Duchampian readymade: the manufactured object turned into a big, clunky, beautiful yet useless version of itself. It's not quite the radical shift in scale of the aluminum clay mounds upstairs, but the uncanny sense of displacement is more deeply felt because such harmless objects provoke it.

This installation testifies to Fischer's greatest strengths as an artist—strengths that have made him a household name in Europe, but until now a relative unknown in North America. He's a collector and a curator, assembling lists, working in series, amassing objects and media; he's an architect, engineering experiences of space and organizing our evolution through rooms; and he's a craftsman, concerned first and foremost with transforming and refining the material qualities of his work, confident that meaning and intrigue will emerge organically.

Marguerite de Ponty isn't quite a tour de force, but then it was never conceived as such. It's as good an introduction as can be assembled for an artist whose interests have remained fairly constant over the last ten years, but whose methods of expressing those themes are perpetually evolving. Indeed, the fact that he didn't feel compelled to knock out walls or pull up floors, merely to photograph and superimpose them, may signal the beginning of a subtler mid-career period for Fischer. The only hole in a wall here is just a couple inches in diameter and houses a silicone tongue that slides out at approaching viewers. It's a startling joke, but also a kind of parody of his earlier gallery incisions, as if Fischer is sticking his tongue out at his former self, reinterpreting his earlier work as he presses onward.

(photo credit: The New Museum)