[ART]iculations: Urs Fischer

WHAT LIES BENEATH: Urs Fischer Restrospective at MOCA


Installation view of Urs Fischer's mirror boxes. Photo credit: Carolyn Mirante
Installation view of Urs Fischer’s mirror boxes. Photo credit: Carolyn Mirante


The first work I ever encountered by Swiss-born artist Urs Fischer was a piece entitled You (2007). This wasn’t a portrait, sculpture, or representational semblance; something you’d expect of a piece with such a title. Instead, You was essentially a gigantic hole in the ground, installed as a site-specific installation for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York. I was genuinely startled by the sight of this hole; its presence represented (both literally and symbolically) a gargantuan gouge in the pristine floors of its institutional context.

Fischer is arguably best known for his comedic, tongue-in-cheek pieces. Over the years he’s created lamenting skeletonwould argue, however, that the true Fischer experience lies in his use of institutional critique. Fischer’s recent retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in downtown Los Angeles extends themes found in his Gavin Brown days. The entire exhibition-comprising of over a 60 selections of Fischerʻs work over the past few decades-is spread across both MoCAʻs Grand Avenue and Geffen locations. The

Once inside, visitors are greeted with what one could only deem a complete and total lack of familiarity. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve assumed that the exhibition was still under construction. Where one might expect to find the comfort of walls, were gigantic holes, seemingly cut out quite violently using a Sawzall. I found pieces of scrap drywall and and plastic cup stuffed in the crevices of one of these “cuts.” I could only wonder whether the presence of these materials were deliberate or merely the detritus of materials left behind by installation workers.

As of late, I have been contemplating the implications of curatorial practice; that is, how the act of organizing space itself can be viewed as an act of criticism. It is often the case that spaces are designed to meet social or political objectives. Galleries and museums- in essence architectural spaces– are no exception. The white walls and climate-controlled environments of these modern institutions facilitate an all too easy dismissal of this fact. Perhaps now more than ever, it would do us well to peel back the facade of the white cube to examine its underpinnings.

We can recall the dilemma of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981), a commission instated by the U.S. General Services Administration for the courtyard in front of the Foley Federal Plaza in New York. Serra’s Arc, a large curved piece of steel, would become one of the most controversial pieces of public art in recent history. Workers at the plaza complained that the Arc obstructed crucial points of visibility, thus compromising security. For Serra, the arc proposed a way to infiltrate the existing space at Foley, shifting the object of experience from the plaza to the space of the arc itself. “After the piece is created,” Serra stated in 1980, “the space will be understood primarily as a function of the sculpture.”

In a large room, Fischer’s mirror boxes, a collection of various sculptures showing the facades of everyday objects (a dollar bill, camera, pencil, etc) are spaced out in relation to a warped and contorted bed.


Although seemingly static, Fischer’s works interact with their audience on a deeply dynamic level. The surrealist Max Ernst once attributed the collage to the meeting of two distant realities on a plane foreign to them both. As I make my way from room to room, encountering  unexpected oddities at every turn, Ernst’s words resonate with me. ‘Is this meeting of distant realities not the catalyst which brings to life every work of art?’I think to myself.







Urs Fischerʻs retrospective is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) through August 19th, 2013.
Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
04.21.13 – 08.19.13


ARTiculations is a blog on culture and the arts by Carolyn Mirante for FLUX Hawaii. Carolyn is a Honolulu-based art critic and Owner/Director of the Gallery of Hawaii Artists (GoHA), an alternative exhibition space dedicated to the contemporary arts in Hawai’ i.

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