Fischli and Weiss have always let objects do as they will, appreciating inanimate things for their inhuman strangeness rather than abusing their mute plasticity to make them conform to an alien artistic concept. For “How to Work Better,” their retrospective at the Guggenheim, they’ve taken that approach to the museum’s interior. The layout not only carefully modulates the viewer’s progression up the ramp but also draws compelling sightlines across the yawning atrium. Photographs of airport runways projected on a screen have a mildly amusing blandness when you see them up close, but after you’ve proceeded 180 degrees up the spiral and see them again—when the distance approximates an airport’s scale—the images give an electrifying impression of the romance of air travel.
The untitled work that occupies the ramp’s uppermost curves simulates the mess of a working studio, with pans of dried paint, power tools, and pizza boxes arranged haphazardly on sawhorse tables. You can contemplate it in parts as a clever installation. But when you realize the mess surrounds you, the faked chaos feels real. A jury-rigged gem sparkles in the darkened gallery at the museum’s apex. Son et Lumiere (1990) is actually a faceted clear plastic cup taped to a simple turntable, warping the light cast by a flashlight as it spins. Shown here, the little contraption seems to recapitulate the experience of the exhibition—of marveling at works that continuously shift one’s perspective, spinning it with a clumsiness that can suddenly turn into grace. —Brian Droitcour
Pictured: View of the exhibition “Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better,” 2016, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo David Heald. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.