Peter Fischli and David Weiss, The Objects for Glenstone (detail), 2011/2013, polyurethane and acrylic, dimensions variable.

Peter Fischli and David Weiss, The Objects for Glenstone (detail), 2011/2013, polyurethane and acrylic, dimensions variable.

Peter Fischli and David Weiss

Peter Fischli and David Weiss, The Objects for Glenstone (detail), 2011/2013, polyurethane and acrylic, dimensions variable.

This gorgeously curated overview-cum-retrospective of the polymorphously parodic work of Peter Fischli and David Weiss further benefits from the compelling amalgam of sophistication and bucolic splendor that is Glenstone—the private museum just outside Washington, DC, that houses the collection of Mitchell and Emily Wei Rales. Carefully grouped into several galleries connected to a central pavilion, the exhibition (curated by Emily Rales in collaboration with Fischli himself) consists solely of pieces from Glenstone’s collection and will remain on view through February 2015. The Swiss duo’s first US survey since the 1990s and the first major institutional exhibition of their work since the passing of Weiss last year, this show provides a welcome opportunity to reconsider through-lines in Fischli & Weiss ’s production.

The main pavilion is populated with sixty-three works atop white wooden plinths. These include clay sculptures and rubber casts from the series “Suddenly This Overview,” 1980–2012; “Walls, Corners, Tubes,” 2009–12; and “Rubber Sculptures,” 1986–2005. In these bodies of work, a glut of subjects that range from the momentous (as in The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1981–2012) to the mundane (as in Plumbing Part, 2009) present themselves, each individually isolated, singularized, and concretized in the form of a basic icon. At the center of this grid of plinths, one finds the sculpture Big Corner, 2009— a curatorial choice (to place a “corner” prominently in the middle of the room) that announces the inverted logic at work in Fischli & Weiss’s object world, in which the marginal takes a central role within their indiscriminate catalogue of the real.

Two nearby galleries are each adorned with a white plaster Car, both 1988, and in the first of these two spaces, a phalanx of white plaster Stewardesses, 1989, act as mute intermediaries between projections of more than four hundred images of airports (Views of Airports, 1987–2012). The blank, vacant figures contrast with the legion of color photographs, effecting a deliberate separation between tangible form and two-dimensional image. In the next gallery, a massive light box populated with a staggering grid of small-format color transparencies, Visible World, 1986–2001, stretches diagonally from one end of the room to the other. These images have the promotional gloss of stock travel photography, when in fact they were taken by Fischli & Weiss on their own trips to myriad picturesque locales; the aesthetic of professional remoteness is here ruptured by the fact of personal experience. This light box leads to the most striking piece in the show, The Objects for Glenstone, 2011/2013: a set of obsessive re-creations of more than five hundred individual objects from the artists’ studio, ranging in scale from a single match in an ashtray to a massive tractor tire. These are hand-carved from polyurethane and faithfully painted in acrylics, acting at once as sculptural models and as color reproductions. Following this delirium of duplications is a gallery wherein fifty of the eighty-two images from the “Equilibres (A Quiet Afternoon)” series, 1984–86, are displayed. Among the artists’ best-known works, these studio photographs show tenuously balanced everyday items—momentary arrangements that are caught by the camera’s shutter, fixed on the brink of collapse.

The desire to identify a unifying thread in Fischli & Weiss’s oeuvre has led many to highlight the undeniable element of irony, and though irony is everywhere in these well-known works, it seems to be marshaled less as a simple punch line than as a function, primarily, of remove. Through various methods of replicating and discretizing, Fischli & Weiss explore the gap between things and their representations. They emerge as artists devoted to what I would call a concretism of the absurd, exemplified in the sheer mania that structures works such as The Objects for Glenstone as well as the ceramic and rubber sculptures, Views of Airports, and Visible World, all of which pursue the implausible prospect of rendering a material (read: nonvirtual), parallel model of the world piece by piece, yet without an explicit game plan.

Colin Lang