"Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty"

The art world's newest bad-boy superstar takes over the New Museum.

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  • Service la franaise; Photographs: Courtesy the artist; Gavin Brown's...

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Service la franaise; Photographs: Courtesy the artist; Gavin Brown's...

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

As a critic, I’m often afforded the opportunity to point a finger and say, “The emperor has no clothes!” But in the case of Urs Fischer’s building-wide one-man show at the New Museum, the effort would be wasted. His strategy is, after all, to practically parade around in his birthday suit, waving his naughty bits while bopping you on the head with his crown.

Like Martin Kippenberger and Damien Hirst before him, Fischer isn’t so much a bad-boy artist as a self-consciously bad one who knows how to work the refs. His particular genius has been to get gallery dealers and curators to do outrageous things for him—whether that means blowing holes in walls or floors, or covering the interior of a venue with photomural iteration of its previous exhibition. His approach is so brazen, it’s almost a form of institutional critique. You have to admire his balls, even if you don’t think much of the work.

What you may feel about Fischer’s art, however, is irrelevant, as is any question of his responsibility for it: Walking through “Marguerite de Ponty,” you never ask yourself, What is the artist up to? Rather, you wonder, What was the New Museum thinking in giving this guy the run of the place? The show contains mostly sculpture, so it’s appropriate that Fischer forces issues of scale or proportion—not in physical terms, but rather as a matter of what’s appropriate. It’s the old, avant-garde game of seeing what you can get away with, only without the aim of shocking society (Fischer knows perfectly well that neither shock nor society are what they used to be). Instead, he entertains with the hoary spectacle of the artist bending patrons to his will. Rent the old Charlton Heston--as-Michelangelo chestnut The Agony and the Ecstasy to see what I mean, though Fischer forgoes leaving us with anything like the Sistine ceiling or even, for that matter, the puffed-up rhetoric of relational aesthetics.

Indeed, Fischer is more an intuitive artist than a programmatic one; there’s an almost smash-and-grab quality to the things he creates and to his propensity for raiding other oeuvres. When, for example, he managed to compel his dealer, Gavin Brown, to completely dig out the floor of his gallery to a depth of 15 feet, the resulting crater immediately recalled Michael Heizer. Similarly, Fischer’s trompe l’oeil spectacle for Tony Shafrazi Gallery (co-conceived with Brown) reminded me of William Anastasi’s Untitled from 1966, in which the photographic image of a blank wall was hung over the exact same spot the camera had captured. Fischer was careful to frame both exhibits within the context of the gallery as a place of business, so at least he made a point. With this outing at the New Mu, however, his meaning gets fuzzy.

Here, the references to other artists fly fast and furious. In Violent Cappuccino, a Hirstian skeleton covered in clumps of Duchampian dust seems to have one leg stuck in a cardboard box; Frozen Pioneer rehearses one of Kippenberger’s bent lampposts in bubblegum pink. The exhibition’s second-floor centerpiece, Service la franaise, consists of a mash-up of Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons and Michelangelo Pistoletto: It features images of small things writ large, silk-screened onto the sides of rectangular solids in chromed steel. These forms are arranged in a way that suggests a cityscape, while some of the objects depicted—shoes, books, a model of the Empire State Building surmounted by a toy King Kong—seem meant to evoke the quotidian stuff of urban life.

On the night of the opening, viewers had to enter this installation via the elevator and stand in line before guards ushered them in a few at a time. This crowd-control measure was just for the evening, but it was a reminder that, in the contemporary scheme of things, museums function as just another theme-park distraction. Fischer understands this, of course, but thinks he can design the rides while maintaining the fiction of critical distance. However, an opening night incident involving another piece, Noisette—a plastic tongue secreted in a hole in the wall—suggests otherwise. A motion detector is supposed to set it boldly thrusting from its hideaway whenever someone comes near it, but some technical difficulty kept it from performing. Instead of the intended rude gesture, it became an eloquent metaphor for the problem of this show as a whole: The emperor isn’t naked, he’s impotent.

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