For his 2007 show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Urs Fischer presented a void, hiring contractors to excavate an 8-foot-deep crater in the gallery’s main room. For his recent exhibition at the same venue, Fischer offered up, by contrast, a glut of objects and images, which nevertheless constituted an environment just as carefully calculated. It was further proof, if any were needed, that while his work is rooted in things and materials, Fischer’s real forte is the transformation of physical and psychic space.
Crowded into Brown’s three big galleries were 173 tables ranging widely in size and height, all with colorful steel bases and each with a top sporting one of 80 or so photomontages. The tables, arranged with barely enough room to pass between them, and at times stacked as many as five high, were equipped with mismatched chairs, flower arrangements in kitschy vases and Fischer’s own lumpy bronze sculptures of birds and grotesque heads. Paired with the tables were salon-style groupings of paintings by Fischer’s domestic partner, Cassandra MacLeod. The impression was of something between an art installation, a furniture showroom and a social space. In fact, it was a little bit of each.
The selection of found images in Fischer’s work, while casual, was not entirely arbitrary; porn, great art, cartoons and pictures of food and pets predominated. A few tabletops featured abstract designs, some geometric, some gestural. Many bore absurd groupings or juxtapositions of visuals—an improbably endowed naked woman holding a cartoon invalid on her lap, for example, or a dog lying on its back on a sofa, with a soft-boiled egg for a head. One montage was made up solely of headshots of interior designers, another of plastic surgeons, yet another of art dealers (including Brown). MacLeod’s Guston-like canvases were, at their best, beautifully painted and kookily pictorial. Along with the flowers, the bronze tchotchkes and a few drawings by the couple’s daughter, Lotti, they led a double life as stand-ins for the eventual purchaser’s own treasured possessions, much as the anodyne, silver-framed photos in a Crate and Barrel catalogue do. But works such as a painting of a bundt cake with a cartoon worm, or another of a shipwreck dissolving into hallucinogenic color, held their own, even as the tables themselves began to blur into sameness.
The installation as a whole was unexpectedly exhilarating. With its delirious press release—a paean to the creative life, family and tables that read like an over-the-top version of ad copy for a luxury bran—its three-volume catalogue cum product spec sheet, and its revamped focus (from bad-boy shenanigans to communal enterprise), Fischer’s latest project excavated the art world’s crassly commercial heart. At the same time, it had its cake and ate it too; at last count, almost all the tables had been sold.