New York

Peter Fischli, Untitled, 2018, cardboard, newspaper, paper, enamel, 4 7⁄8 × 4 7⁄8 × 9 3⁄8".

Peter Fischli, Untitled, 2018, cardboard, newspaper, paper, enamel, 4 7⁄8 × 4 7⁄8 × 9 3⁄8".

Peter Fischli

“Two different types of glue have been used: wallpaper glue and white wood glue. All sculptures and pedestals have been painted first with a mixture of indoor emulsion paint and champagne chalk. Additional layers of color were applied using acrylic, silicate paint, gouache, or enamel, and in this way a variety of surface effects, patinas, and sculptural looks have been achieved.” The resolutely deadpan style of the press release for Peter Fischli’s debut exhibition here (a version of the show was installed at the gallery’s sister location in Los Angeles earlier this year), with its steadfast refusal of hyperbole, is as endearing as the works themselves.

Gathering two lithographic prints and thirty-three small, untitled sculptures modeled after humble objects, such as tin cans, plastic bags, and cardboard boxes, the exhibition showed the Swiss artist to have retained the light touch for which he became internationally known during his long partnership with the late David Weiss. While some of the sculptures involved a convincing reproduction of the color or texture of, say, rusted metal or stoneware, they didn’t attempt to push beyond the mimetic uncanniness of Fischli & Weiss’s works in carved and painted polyurethane. Neither did they belong to the consciously raw-looking body of work in clay and rubber that the pair began making in the late 1980s. Instead, they sat somewhere between the playful illusionism of the former and the direct tactility of the latter.

Fischli’s sculptural language isn’t exclusively sensory, however. These works bore provisional titles in place of more formal handles and appear at first, in their seeming simplicity, to skirt any specific cultural reference. But the use of certain newspapers in their constructions—Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 1914, Neue Presse from 1967 and 1968, and Migros Zeitung from 2016 and 2017—felt politically pointed. Just as Jasper Johns deliberately excluded clippings involving headlines and significant events from the encaustic surface of his famous Flag, 1954–55, so Fischli filtered the material to infuse these works with a covert social commentary, literally burying it beneath an opaque construction-paper surface of these variations on the simple cuboid and cylinder.

There was another semiconcealed dynamic at play in the show, too, one of repetition and joint efforts. While the Fischli & Weiss project ended with the death of Weiss in 2012, Fischli has continued to collaborate with others, and here made sure to credit the artists Bernhard Hegglin and Jason Klimatsas for their production assistance. Just as Fischli & Weiss reveled in the existential comedy of systems and seriality—underscoring the strangeness of the manufactured world by collecting, presenting, and representing some of its most outwardly banal images and environments—so did Fischli remind us of a persistent oddity of the artistic process itself: Still popularly regarded as a fundamentally solitary activity, it is, of course, as comprehensively networked as any other.

In sculptures that often cross the line between “expressive” handcrafted artifacts and accidental by-products, then, Fischli renders the creative process transparent from beginning to end. Transparent, but no less enjoyably extrarational—some of the show’s contents (from that uncommonly likable press release) included memories of artworks made as props for a movie shot in Los Angeles some thirty-seven years ago. That the exhibition was pleasing was in no small part thanks to its capacity to allow viewers to imagine a cinematic scenario around the various containers here, with their many quirks of facture and underlying contexts. Is this what they mean by magical realism?