The Fischer King

Nicolas Trembley on Urs Fischer at Palazzo Grassi

Left: Urs Fischer's self-portrait. Right: Palazzo Grassi founder François Pinault with Urs Fischer. (Photos: Marco Sabadin)

IT WAS RAINING when Urs Fischer’s exhibition opened at the Palazzo Grassi. When it rains in Venice, armies of parka-clad tourists toting umbrellas of all colors wind down the narrow streets. Fischer, the anti-Abramović, was conspicuously not present at the official opening of the exhibition, whose title, “Madame Fisscher,” is the feminine version of the artist’s name. Madame Fisscher is also the title of a work at the entrance to the Palazzo that consists of an exact replica of the artist’s former studio in London.

Fischer—in the company of François Pinault, owner of the Palazzo and one of the artist’s most important collectors—had made it to Friday’s press preview, however, for the lighting of the two candle sculptures, one a self-portrait, the other of Rudolf Stingel. He politely answered a slew of questions posed by journalists from all over the world who had been brought together by the communications guru Claudine Colin. Polite though he was, all the journalists managed to get out of him was “I don’t know,” “Maybe,” and “Probably.” Fischer, who came to Venice with his wife and daughter, is not much of a talker.

At the opening, many stopped in front of his Necrophonia, a piece the artist had made with his former teacher Georg Herold (also present), for a show at the Modern Institute in Glasgow last summer. The installation depicts a sculpture studio with a nude live model, the trilingual Giovanna, who was provided with a small electric heater to keep warm. She appeared slightly annoyed by all the spectators, especially the male ones. In all, the exhibition featured about thirty different works that trace the artist’s career since 1990. The quirkiest of them was a quasi-dog creature, leaning against one of the museum’s pillars, complete with a mechanism for wagging its tail. Its placement next to Jeff Koons’s pink Balloon Dog made for a veritable style war.

Left: Curator Caroline Bourgeois. Right: Giovanna. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Fischer had also organized a project with students at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, a workshop on modeling the human hand and cats. The students created clay sculptures to be exhibited around the city and in back of the school. Because of the rain, the sculptures slowly disintegrated and disappeared into the waters of the lagoon.

In the late afternoon, visitors gradually dispersed to go shopping, change for dinner, or have a drink at the Bauer Hotel (naturally). At last there was room to walk around the exhibition. The biennial’s unofficial headquarters, which is usually bursting with stars and paparazzi, is actually quite charming, said one Christie’s employee, when there are not so many people around. He was flanked on one side by a rich kid adviser and on the other by a cool young blond poetess from the Lower East Side, most likely a friend of Nate Lowman, who was seated not too far away.

In the evening, Pinault organized a modest dinner for friends and family at Harry’s Bar. The owners of all the galleries Fischer works with were there, including Sadie Coles, Eva Presenhuber, Toby Webster, and Gavin Brown’s Lucy Chadwick, as well as a few of the directors of Gagosian Gallery. I am not allowed to talk about the menu, because it was one of the items blacklisted by the PR team, but I can say that it was delicious. Martin Bethenod, director of the Palazzo Grassi, thanked the guests, who included the exhibition’s curator, Caroline Bourgeois, in a wheelchair because of a broken foot. In fact her cast, covered by an enormous combat boot, was not unlike a Fischer sculpture. We all had a good laugh. To finish off the evening, we had to choose where to go for a nightcap: the Bauer, the famous B Bar, or that place at the Hotel Europa & Regina, whose name no one knew.

Patricia Falguières and Michele Robecchi, the authors of the forthcoming catalogue, went for option two. They were not disappointed. We chose an herbal tea instead of a Bellini. Bice Curiger, the director of the last biennial, showed off her shirt, which resembled raw meat or Venetian marble.

Left: Curator Bice Curiger. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Dealers Eva Presenhuber and Philippe Ségalot. (Photo: Marco Sabadin)

Left: Critic Patricia Falguières. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: W editor Stefano Tonchi with curator Francesco Bonami. (Photo: Marco Sabadin)

Left: Gavin Brown director Lucy Chadwick. Right: Palazzo Grassi director Martin Bethenod. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)