The Fischer King

Michael Wang on Urs Fischer at the New Museum

New York

Left: Cindy Sherman and David Byrne. Right: John Waters. (All photos: Patrick McMullan)

THERE WAS A CARNIVAL FEEL to the New Museum’s Tuesday fete for the crowd-pleasing “Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty.” Art-hungry hordes lined up for their dose of the uncanny, whether taking turns being shocked by Noisette, a lingual jack-in-the-box that sprung from a gallery wall, or queuing for entry to Service a la francaise, Fischer’s hall of mirrors silk-screened with images of consumer detritus rendered luminous by studio strobes.

Despite the dazzle, the three-floor show, which its curator, Massimiliano Gioni, was calling a “tour de force of perception,” also sustained deeper questions into the nature of representation. Fischer’s orthogonally reconstructed consumables played on techniques of projection and the cross section, his objects subjected to surgical incisions before being reproduced on his polished steel monoliths in five high-resolution views. A pillar of Froot Loops had been sheared across two planes, a pear cut across one side, even a cowboy boot was truncated––castrated, maybe, in a nod to the impotence of the late Bush administration. Perhaps due in part to restrictions on access (only forty guests at a time), the mirrored prisms were by far the favored work of the evening. Director Lisa Phillips staked out her place amid the stelae, beaming like a proud mother and chatting up the wide-eyed young artists (and Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close) wandering the works. “Does it make you jealous?” she teased, appraising the show.

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch (left). Right: Artist Tom Sachs and New Museum director Lisa Phillips.

It seemed like half the guests had had a hand in the fabrication of the works on view (well, at least those not made in China). Fischer’s assistant, the artist Darren Bader, explained how the wallpaper that covered every surface on the third floor, including a drop ceiling with false beams constructed for the exhibition, was, in fact, a photographic copy of the space after the deinstallation of the prior show. (The almost imperceptible nail studs evidenced where David Goldblatt photographs had hung only a few weeks before.) The whole trompe l’oeil possessed a decidedly mauve cast, which, setting off what looked like a lavender soft sculpture of a piano (actually aluminum and painted by a mercenary from Jeff Koons’s studio), gave something of the effect of a chromatic afterimage.

Within the purple haze, a simultaneously quotidian and surreal sculpture of a (real) croissant, on which a mounted butterfly appears to alight, hung like a miniature moon. “Urs treats reality as if it could be Photoshopped,” Gioni asserted when I caught up with him outside the seventh-floor Sky Room. “Everything is in focus all at once.” Gioni and Fischer had put together the show in under a year, and several major decisions weren’t made until just before opening night. “Mass and Urs are like a divorced couple,” Rhizome and the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell joked in reference to the sometimes fiery relationship between the curator and the artist, both thirty-six.

Left: Artist Leo Villareal. Right: Dealer Gavin Brown and artist Hope Atherton.

According to what has by now become his custom, Fischer didn’t make an appearance at his opening, leaving the works (and the museum staff) to speak in his stead—and giving over the limelight to celebrity guests like John Waters and David Byrne. Sometime past midnight, long after I had departed the museum for the Interview-sponsored afterparty at Civetta in Nolita, I finally spotted Fischer at the bar upstairs; most everyone else, taking the lead of his dealer Gavin Brown and artist Hope Atherton, was dancing up a storm in the basement lounge. “My exhibition is still there, while everyone is asleep,” he marveled over a vodka tonic. Apparently with an eye on the show’s legacy he added, enigmatically, “In twenty or fifty years it will still be there like it is tonight.” Or perhaps he was simply stating a material fact: that he had created a show of relatively traditional sculptures that—unlike his houses of bread or gallery excavations––might indeed stick around for years to come. Except the croissant, that is.