New York

Joel Fisher

Farideh Cadot Gallery; Diane Brown Gallery

Joel Fisher develops his drawings and sculpture using a method similar to the one that Marcel Duchamp devised for his 3 Stoppages Etalon (3 standard stoppages, 1913–14). Duchamp dropped three threads, each of them one meter long, from a height of one meter, and glued them to strips of cloth mounted on glass in the exact configuration in which they had fallen, then cut the same shapes out of three long wooden rulers. Like Duchamp, Fisher presents the basis of his method along with the results. For each of his drawings he singles out one of the fibers in a sheet of his own handmade paper and makes it the subject of the work, enlarging it in a broad line rendering in graphite on the same sheet. These drawings can then be presented in themselves, but often Fisher translates the same linear shapes into sculptures.(The selection of work at Farideh Cadot included a range of drawings and sculptures; the show at Diane Brown focused on Fisher’s sculptures.)

Duchamp declared that his purpose in 3 Stoppages Etalon was “to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance, through my chance.” This last phrase is especially significant in understanding Fisher’s work. A central issue implicit in his method is the necessity for the artist to take responsibility for the consequences of the art. Once a viewer is familiar with Fisher’s method, one of the first things he or she is apt to do on looking at each drawing is to try to find the particular fiber that he has chosen as the basis for it. This leads to the question of why he chose this fiber and not another. The works thus point up Fisher’s role in directing an apparently chance-based process to determine the final nature of the piece.

All of this playing with process, however, is only one level of the work’s meaning. Nearly all of the fibers that Fisher selects are “representational” in one sense or another. At Farideh Cadot, one wall was covered with a series of small drawings in which Fisher had used his technique to form the numbers 0 through 9, which he had arranged in a grid like a multiplication table. In most of the other drawings the forms are quirky and awkward and don’t fit into any particular style of representation, but they are undeniably figurative. In many cases the shapes that Fisher has chosen can be read as human figures in various gestural poses—standing, running, bending over. In sculptures shown at Farideh Cadot (all untitled, from the “Primary Movers” series, 1986–87) these outline figures were translated into roughly worked bronze, suggesting in their linear construction similar “drawings-in-space” by, say, Julio Gonzalez or David Smith. The pieces at Diane Brown are also based on found figures in the drawings, but Fisher has cast them in the round, giving them a solidity and fluidity like that of work by Jean Arp. These sculptures remain figurative but refer to a wider range of subjects, often explicitly stated in the titles—for example, Hat, 1985–86, or Bottles (The Family), 1985.

Fisher is a minimalist, but not a pure one. Even though he uses chance—or maybe it’s better to call it serendipity—as the basis of the forms he works with, Fisher doesn’t pretend that the objects he creates are autonomous, or that they’re somehow inherently meaningful. Instead he draws attention to the process of interpretation, to the creative reading that is at the root of signification.

Charles Hagen