Urs Fischer, Happy Cheese, 2016, cast bronze, oil paint, 9 1/8 × 6 1/2 × 5 1/4".

Urs Fischer, Happy Cheese, 2016, cast bronze, oil paint, 9 1/8 × 6 1/2 × 5 1/4".

Urs Fischer

Massimo De Carlo | Milan/Belgioioso

Urs Fischer, Happy Cheese, 2016, cast bronze, oil paint, 9 1/8 × 6 1/2 × 5 1/4".

Massimo De Carlo’s original industrial space could not be more different from the gallery’s new location in an eighteenth-century palazzo. Yet opposites are known to attract. Like a couple that must live under separate roofs to stay together, the venues offer artists the chance to select the preferred context for presenting themselves: periphery or center, studio or palazzo, iron or plaster, high or low? All this, however, is violently called into question by an artist who, like Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, has us journey toward Lilliput or Brobdingnag, turns us into dwarves or giants, the observers and the observed, producers and consumers of a unique ecosystem constructed of individual discomforts and collective catharses, allegories and enigmas, absurdities and tragedies, horrors and pleasures.

In Milan, our Gulliver is Urs Fischer, the first artist to exhibit simultaneously in the gallery’s two venues. At the Via Ventura location, he presents twenty-six small sculptures installed on the ground and second floors, as well as the staircases. At the Palazzo Belgioioso, one encounters two large pairs of eyeballs, inexorably disturbing, constructed from photographs, paint, and glass.

The miniature sculptures at Via Ventura are a phalanx of men, animals, and food items, all cast in bronze and some painted in delicate pastels. The works are sourced from preexisting images in Fischer’s studio and from his mental approach to image production—from the myriad drawings, sketches, and photographs that he creates constantly: a wedge of cheese with a birthday candle, an eyeless portrait of a threatening man, a naked woman stretched out on a chaise lounge, menacing crows perched in a dark tree, a rat at the keys of a grand piano, a white swan. These are all images that exist in Fischer’s imagination, or in the imaginations of other artists who, in the recent exhibition “Urs Fischer—False Friends,” curated by Massimiliano Gioni at the Museum of Art and History of Geneva, were presented as colleagues sharing certain sensibilities, affinities, or misunderstandings.

Though distinctly idiosyncratic, this visual subject matter was born of interests and concerns shared with contemporaries and predecessors such as Jeff Koons, Fischli & Weiss, Robert Gober, Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke, and Paul McCarthy, to mention only a few. Occasionally, we can trace Fischer’s fascination with a particular work or artist: for example, in his wax copy of The Rape of the Sabines, 1581–82, by Giambologna, or the body sculpture of Rudolf Stingel (both shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale). In this sense, the show is at once a solo and a collective project. The conceptual genesis of these works matters little: The inspiration can come from other artists, from Fischer’s personal archive, from Dadaist recollections, or from the unconscious of a public that has participated in his large projects, specifically the production of works through the chance assemblage of raw materials such as clay (for example YES, 2011–, in various locations including Los Angeles, Moscow, Leeds, and Hydra).

The format and display of these small sculptures forces all visitors to interact with them one-on-one, encountering them in a way that is sometimes uncomfortable or laden with misunderstanding. The second venue conveys this same mystery, humor, and fear. Here, the four glass eyes seem to subvert the luxury they are surrounded by, their unblinking gaze itself manifesting a sense of anxiety. Ironically, this lavish environment functions almost as a social critique, the tiny sculptures stands-ins for a wretched and supine community that lowers itself in order to rise. One emerges from the show feeling comforted but indelibly marked by these images, which render us all small, fragile, and obsessive, but equal.

Paola Nicolin

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.