I picked a mean fight with a guide at the New Museum last Friday night. Our fierce disagreement over Urs Fischer in particular — and art in general — opened up some juicy fault lines.
The guide does not care for comedy. He wore it like a badge of high honor that he only views “serious” films. He went on to discuss how he likes art with substance, art with meat on the bone, that says something, and that makes him feel something.
And he was disappointed with Urs Fischer, whose works didn’t unleash deep thoughts about the human condition, overwhelm him with emotion, or prick his mind with a new idea. Memories of German Expressionist manifestos flickered in my mind as he spoke. He was a serious man.
But for those who enjoy a bit of visual comedy, Urs Fischer is a grand way to start your evening.
His mirror boxes [“Service à la française” (2009)] are scattered throughout the second floor. Each work in the series is a rectangular cube covered with a reflective mirror surface. Each face bears a realistic image of an object. It is the type of trick that can fool you into believing the object is really there until you look at the edges, which reveal that it is all an illusion. You catch glimpses of other cubes in these bare and reflective surfaces and you’ll spot things from strange angles. This sensory orgy reminded me of mirrored escalators at department stores that tease you with perceptions of infinity.
The third floor has Fischer’s wickedly famous “tongue in the wall” [aka “Noisette” (2009)], which sticks out as the viewer approaches. The work seems to always catch you off guard and it unlocks a childhood thrill of playing peek-a-boo. On the same floor there is a mutilated and distorted purple piano — it is a fanciful play with form.
The next floor has tall rock-like formations and a bright fluorescent lamp post that feels as though it was yanked straight out of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Everyone in the gallery looked at me quizzically as I walked around and ducked my head in an attempt to catch every view of these massive sculptures. Sculpture in the round is not for lazy feet and — much like the dance floor — if you do not move with vigor and verve you will leave the space unsatisfied.
Viewing art is like taking a trip to Baskin Robins. Some art is rich and deep like chocolate, other works are strange and uncanny like garlic ice cream (it does exist and tastes delicious), and finally some art tastes like vanilla, offering sweet and simple pleasure. Just as it would be silly to get angry at chocolate because it doesn’t taste like vanilla, I think it’s unfair to criticize Urs Fischer because he doesn’t “get deep.” He has mastered a fun and playful energy.
As my visit concluded, I climbed to the top of the New Museum to watch a sunset from that glorious room which crowns that building. Orange and rosy hues of glowing smog hug a skyline of gritty buildings.
My thinking is that you can disparage all this optical pleasure and take yourself seriously but I chose not to. Urs Fischer pulls off visual fun with a wicked and rollicking panache.
The New Museum’s Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty exhibition continues until February 7, 2010.