Urs Fischer - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sadie Coles HQ, London
    Private Collection, 2003
    Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, November 9, 2010, lot 1
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Zurich, Galerie Hauser & Wirth & Presenhuber, Mastering the Complaint, August -– October 2001
    Zurich, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Breathing the water, February - March 2003

  • Catalogue Essay

    “My works really smile. They’re not horrible ruins…but they fall apart sometimes, there’s nothing to be afraid of any more.” Urs Fischer, 2007

    From his meldings of furniture to his whimsical sculptures, Urs Fischer has set the status quo for the uncategorizable artist. The intensity of work hearkens back to traditions of religious relics and reliquaries, objects rich in significance that nonetheless may present themselves modestly. 2001’s Untitled (Candle) represents one of Fischer’s most unabashedly terrifying works, yet it is molded in man’s own image—a tribute to the duality that all of his work seems to feature. Prefiguring his recent series of melting wax sculptures by a decade, Untitled (Candle), 2001 is an original—an experiment in the amorphous truth of human existence.

    Fischer’s Swiss upbringing served to lace his sculpture with Teutonic overtones, evident in their athletic muscularity and frequently earth-toned chromatic schemes. But despite his excellence in the various physical forms, Fischer’s only formal training is in photography. This lack of institutionalization brings forth an unmitigated freedom of expression in Fischer’s work: a great deal hints at Dada while other pieces are entirely dependent upon their relation to the space in which they are exhibited. Simply put, Fischer’s anti-formulaic process has precipitated a new era of sculpting, where a lack of conformity to establishment principles lends each piece a life removed from all others.

    In Untitled (Candle), 2001, Fischer bequeaths us with a work both grotesque and breathtaking, both traditional and rebellious. Standing five feet, seven inches, or just a few inches taller than the average woman, Fischer seeks to give his sculpture a form as true-to-life as possible, forging her physicality to match that of the observer. The wide hips, long dark hair, and youthful breasts of his figure hint at a woman in the prime of her life.

    Yet the color scheme foils any inclination of attraction for the viewer, for Fischer has molded her in the tones of death, her pale skin betraying bits of its original color along her legs and torso. Hands slack and rough, and with gashes strewn across her upper body, its difficult to surmise whether her imperfections are the result of an athletically-sculpting Fischer or the intentional marks of a cadaver. The answer may lie in her expression: with her eye lids heavy and lifeless mouth slackened, we cannot help but feel as though the figure has been dead for some time, the petrifying aspects of rigor mortis contorting the blood in her veins and her theoretical muscle tissue. And, when comparing her former life to her present state, one cannot rule out the horror of foul play.

    Upon closer inspection, Untitled (Candle), 2001, is a marvel of balance in its wax and pigment incarnation. Much as Michelangelo left various sculptures of marble figures unfinished, their limbs and plinths square and irregular, Fischer neglects to perfect the left foot of his sculpture, creating a grounded fulcrum that doubles as a pedestal. The alternating precision of his wax carving along the legs and arms is more akin to the tradition of German wood carving than candlemaking, not unlike the corpora that adorned countless crucifixes during the High Middle Ages.

    Yet the central feature of the figure—the wick positioned at the top of the cranium—is representative of one of Fischer’s larger artistic projects: the exploration of ephemerality. His work includes “…pieces of fruit bolted together; a cabinlike house built of bread; human figures in the form of wax candles. In each case the materials share one thing: natural transience. The fruit rots. Birds devour the house. The candle figures melt away.”(H. Cotter, “Art in Review: Urs Fischer”, The New York Times, November 23, 2007) This preoccupation with transience is not unlike the human aging process itself, as we are bound to melt gradually just as Fischer’s figure is.

    The particular magic that Fischer has captured in the present lot is that of a bifurcated state of being: that of the potential and the actual. In its present state, Untitled is a gorgeous carved sculpture of the human figure—a throwback to the work of Medieval carvers and craftsmen. Yet in its potential state of being, Fischer’s work becomes a masterpiece of surrealism, its features dissolving into a morass of melted medium. “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).

    But Fischer understands and champions the fact that both ugliness and beauty have a place in art, though perhaps no other artist has succeeded in binding the two together in such a way as he. As if held up by an invisible force, the present lot brings to mind many spiritual objects imbued with the ability to create fire. And, though the figure dies a second death in the physical realm as she softens and fades, Fischer proves to us through this process that the realm of the spiritual belongs in the realm of art: in order to die two deaths, there must first be two lives.

Ο ◆5

Untitled (Candle)

wax, wick, pigment, bricks
66 7/8 x 18 1/8 x 11 1/2 in. (169.8 x 46 x 29.2 cm)
This work is number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof. The artist will grant a License to Reproduce directly to the buyer.

$1,400,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,565,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm