Peter Fischli and David Weiss

The 150 small color photographs in this show focus the viewer’s attention on questions about kitsch, clichés, triteness—the kind of questions that are ubiquitous in today’s art. The two prefabricated closets cast in black rubber are also linked to these issues, but they undermine the surface banality as a problem by alluding to closed, hidden, inaccessible things. Yet these works are obviously lacking “art.” This absence is intrinsic in the entire oeuvre of Peter Fischli and David Weiss, just as their fondness for irony and ambivalence in various media, including film, is well known. As a basic esthetic pattern, their artlessness follows its own structure. It always aims at turning the artwork into an object of everyday cultural reality.

To a degree, the photographs—banal views of buildings, streets, objects, landscapes, or even monuments like the Sphinx or the Pyramids—constitute a pictorial inventory of pleasurable everyday realities culled from the pages of calendars. Inherently calm and, in a manner of speaking, natural, these photographs document Fischli and Weiss’ artistic voyage of discovery. Their impressions are subjective. We see their Stonehenge, their Eiffel Tower; we sense something Australian, something Swiss, or something Venetian. These shots are never photographically daring, because of their stillness, and they forfeit much of the irony or ambiguity that is present in other works by these artists. This loss, however, is not devastating, for these photographs come into existence at precisely the magical moment that they try to capture. They represent this instant of discovery as a gathering place of strange, bizarre banalities.

In this game of perception, the Swiss landscape, when viewed more closely, evokes religious feelings, if not—at least allusively—the sense of redemption that we know all too well in Romantic landscape paintings; a thick, white, snowy blanket weighs heavily on a woodpile, while the snow-covered trees all around seem like lonesome, mournful, contemplative observers of this scene. However, our eyes skip over them and over the wood, and we concentrate solely on the pale white strip on the horizon that mediates our path to nothingness.

Fischli and Weiss’ view of things is universal, sometimes romantic and sentimental. Yet this description stops at the surface of these works. The viewer becomes a consumer, and that seems to be the pivotal message of these works. We can make things easy for ourselves, we can walk past the photographs, as in a pictorial supermarket, and, with a small bit of fantasy, perhaps with some naive embellishment, we can imagine that we are peering at photographs of a more or less interesting trip around the world. We choose from our memories. On the other hand, we could make things harder on ourselves. We might wonder if the things that we see as familiar have the intrinsic existence with which they present themselves, or whether they only express an abstract relationship between us and them. The issue is the viewer’s own way of knowing things, of knowing the world. This process takes place not through the sum of the individual pictures, but through a subjective overview of the world, a plan that unconsciously precedes our visit to this exhibition.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.