New York

Peter Fischli And David Weiss

Sonnabend Gallery

The current crop of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ canned photographs and objects is, as usual, unfailingly witty. Whether or not that also makes them wise is another question. Everything exhibited here—glossy images of glamorous airplanes and plaster stewardesses and cars—relates to travel. These days the art world depends for its momentum on the jetliner: tension, drama, and sense of purpose are heightened as objects move from this international exhibition to that one, building up steam for some incalculable, cosmically relevant, grand climax of an exhibition. The “whoopie!” if not “eureka!” effect is generated simply by keeping the art moving. Boredom and redundancy are kept at a distance, even though they haunt everything.

At the same time, the works here are unapologetically kitsch—just like the rest of the world. Everything, from history to high culture, is heading irreversibly toward its Disneyland destiny—the museum of museums. Flight is both dangerous and necessary; Fischli and Weiss comfort us by also making it reassuring. And what is more reassuring than the narcissism of glamor and the efficient plainness of stewardesses?

The tourist souvenirs shown here are the ultimate weapons of survival. The plaster stewardesses are like little Statues of Liberty; the photographs of airplanes, which look like enlargements of the glossy, self-advertising postcards one can get for free on the international flights of the better airlines, represent an esthetic purified of all worldly dross yet sublimely commercial.

I believe it is Fischli and Weiss who should wear the hotly disputed crown of Andy Warhol, if they want it. They have the same genius for elevating the mediocre that he had—of heightening its deadliness. But their saving grace is that their conversion of it into an epiphany does not reek of the same aspiration to insight as Warhol’s no-exit images of the banal. There is still hope for their wit, however difficult it may be for them to surpass their brilliant, tour de force film, Der Lauf der Dinge (The course of things, 1987). Certainly this exhibition of objects that have been rehabilitated by being made irreducibly mediocre does not surpass the film’s display of objects already in the wrecked condition of junk, trapped in the entropic chemistry of a perpetual motion catastrophe.

Donald Kuspit