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  • Provenance

    Bortolami Dayan Gallery, New York
    Collection of Mark Fletcher, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Bortolami Dayan Gallery, Closing Down, September 21 – October 29, 2005

  • Literature

    Urs Fischer and A. Zachary, ed., Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole (Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty), Switzerland, 2009, p. 381 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I don’t try to set up an illusion. It’s more a consequence of how charged an image or a sculpture can be. The work has to have a life of its own: that’s the energy of the piece, and that’s what you have to be in service of. URS FISCHER

    (Urs Fischer, taken from an interview with Massimiliano Gioni, Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, Zurich, 2009, p. 61)

    Urs Fischer’s deconstruction and reconstruction of our most familiar objects reaches a wild crescendo in ?, 2005. Just as he has experimented with radical reimaginings of mundane domesticity, here, Fischer turns his attention to the human form itself, fashioning an arm, yet leaving it detached from the torso. In doing so, Fischer positions himself in a distinctive niche of Twenty First Century Art: while he clearly draws influences from myriad traditions of the past—including Surrealism, Minimalism, and Pop Art—it is his perpetual avoidance of “style” that makes his allure strong and his art particularly profound.

    Though irreducible to a single movement or confined to any one art-historical tradition, Fischer’s work has frequently taken as its modus operandi the wealth of meaning in what we perceive to be the dull environments of our lives. Recreating household furniture, commonplace domestic objects, and other innocuous surroundings, Fischer uses the do-it-yourself approach of the common handyman. He renders his objects in resin, wood, and wax, among others, even if constructing the objects in question out of such materials would render them entirely useless. The results are unorthodox depictions of our everyday environment: armchairs too big or too small, apples and pears
    fused together, houses fashioned from bread. Fischer’s transformations have even shown the transformative powers of Gestalt, as in his chairs, which lend their subject an anthropomorphic quality.

    In the present lot, ?, 2005, Fischer extrapolates upon his earlier efforts in rendering the human form. Having previously delved into the formations of human beings from the ephemeral medium of wax, allowing his subjects to melt into ghoulish grotesques of themselves, he again plays with the subconcious tenets of Surrealism. Indeed, the present lot has a dreamlike quality in its inherent paradox: Fischer plays on our environmental prejudices, surprising us in his ability to make such weighty materials float above us.

    Here, the hand of Fischer’s dismembered arm clutches a string attached to a floating balloon, rendered in the ironic medium of painted wood and plaster. Elements suspended in this way are reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez, 1947. Of course, the source of the balloon’s levity is its secure fastening to the ceiling above it, but the sole prevention of detachment between the two main features of the sculpture is the single string that the resin hand clutches. Fischer’s piece becomes as much a question about balance and soundness of structure as it does its unique medium. In this fragile relationship between the clutching arm and the balloon, we witness a clever reversal of our normal perceptions of gravity: while our grip is usually responsible for keeping a helium-filled balloon grounded, here, the balloon is charged with the task of supporting the arm, suspending it from a calamitous fall.

    Yet, as he has claimed in the past, Fischer’s work does not concern the art of illusion. Instead, he aims to imbue his piece with layers upon layers of connotation, or “charge” as he calls it. His minimal structure, combined with the provocative nature of his materials and choice of subject, yields a piece that is elegant in its simplicity yet exploding with meaning. “The effect of which…invokes the compelling combination of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness, a dualistic trope that Fischer has frequently employed to capture the audience’s attention” (J. Morgan, “If You Build Your House on a Bed of Rotting Vegetables”, Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, Zurich, 2009, p. 47). Fischer captivates his audience with the overwhelming suggestiveness of his piece.

    While the ironic use of his materials appeals to the viewer in terms of the installation’s creative form, the present lot’s content appeals to the observer on an entirely different level: it is, as a whole, unarguably hilarious. Though, at first glance, we may perceive a nostalgic glimpse into the innocence of a childhood gone by, Fischer thwarts our whimsical thoughts with the following question: why is the arm disembodied? As the macabre is often a prevalent theme in Fischer’s work, our speculations may easily veer into the realm of black humor; perhaps this arm once belonged to a stubborn child, whose uncompromising grip on his balloon eventually culminated in—what we perceive to be—a tragically comic accident. In any case, Fischer succeeds in inspiring wonderfully bizarre and off-color narrative readings of his work.

    It seems that the present lot, and Fischer’s art in general, is about the nature of dichotomy. As Fischer’s provocative art conjures our cognitive dissonance, he tests our definitions of reality. A floating balloon made out of wood upsets our notions of normalcy; consequently, ?, 2005, achieves in the viewer a space between his expectations and the truth of Fischer’s artistic situation. It is in this space of confounding charm, sinister surprise, and awe-inspiring irreverence that we give over to our emotive reaction. Fischer’s installation, though it may make us cringe with disgust at its grisly dismemberment, cannot help but have us smile at its comic simplicity. Whether we choose to laugh or scorn the present lot, Fischer does not fail to engage both our senses of morbidity and gaiety; ?, 2005, for all of its basis in a fantastical reality, is exemplary of Fischer’s macabre wit.



polyurethane resin, two-component polyurethane foam, acrylic paint, wire, string, plaster, wood, and hair
dimensions variable: 69 x 20 x 14 1/2 in (175.3 x 50.8 x 36.8 cm)
Signed and dated “Urs Fischer 2005” on the arm.
This work is unique.

$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,082,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York