Urs Fischer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Urs Fischer is known for exploring the relationship between representation and reality through space, scale and material. Drawing from art historical antecedents in Surrealism, the Situationist International and Dadaism, Fischer’s diverse oeuvre is connected by its irreverent, and at times mordant, sense of humor. With polymathic abilities across media, Fischer has built houses with bread, created aluminum assemblages that seemingly defy gravity and cast historic sculptures into ephemeral wax figures that gradually melt away. The Swiss-born, New York-based artist’s experimental practice consistently pushes boundaries, demonstrating a conceptual and technical mastery that has solidified his reputation as one of the most important artists working today.

    Magnesium, 2015, belongs to the discrete body of work in which Fischer turns to his own image by using a photograph of his face as a point of departure. Fischer builds upon his characteristic subversive approach to the art historical tradition of self-portraiture, as evidenced in earlier work such as Last Standing Chair, 1997, a “self-portrait” consisting of a slumping chair held together by string. In Magnesium, the artist smothers his own image to construct an illusionistic work that explores the representation of material and illusions of depth, as well as the role of the artist.


    Detail of the present work.

    Analogizing content and form, Magnesium  uses the representational powers of photography and silkscreen to both represent and obscure the artist’s own likeness. Although Fischer uses his portrait as a point of departure, he almost entirely obscures his likeness by layers of silkscreened brushstrokes that encircle bodily orifices such as eyes and ears. Only through these painted apertures is the viewer granted glimpses of the artist’s features. In Magnesium, all that can be seen is a partial eye, the bridge of the nose, the shadow of a mouth and a glimpse of stubble. Moreover, the mere 90-degree turn of the image proves sufficient to momentarily disorient viewers, abstracting familiar anatomical forms. A specter beyond the illusion of paint, Fisher is overcome by fleshy pinks and pale violets. The artist’s image introduces a psychological element to the work in which he is seen yet inaccessible, veiled by his mechanically exaggerated handiwork that speaks to the themes of perception, representation and memento mori across his practice.

    "[Fischer] delights in the possibilities of surface, but even works that suggest his handmade touch turn out to have been produced through a range of digital processes in order to create the oddly surreal appearance of reality gone wrong."
    —Jessica Morgan
    Paradigmatic of Fischer’s practice, Magnesium possesses an uncanny sensibility that derives from its material illusionism. At a monumental scale, Magnesium is superbly executed on two aluminum panels and asserts physical solidity and permanence. Featuring almost impossibly large impasto, the work appears as no more than a traditionally rendered painting from a distance. Upon close viewing, however, the viewer encounters a rich landscape of subtly textured halftones. Silkscreen passes delicately separate discrete colors with scientific precision, which fragment the monumental painterly gesture being depicted. Kindred to Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke, 1965, Fischer’s Magnesium questions the value of the unique gesture of the artist with a cheeky cross-reference of artistic media.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian, Beverly Hills
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Beverly Hills, Gagosian, Fountains, September 15–October 17, 2015

    • Literature

      Brook Mason, ""Water works" Urs Fischer's fountains on show at LA’s Gagosian Gallery,” Wallpaper, September 30, 2015, online (Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 2015 installation view illustrated)
      Urs Fischer: Phantom Paintings, New York, 2017, p. 54, 166 (illustrated, pp. 52–53; Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 2015 installation view illustrated, pp. 49, 55)
      Urs Fischer and Priya Bhatnagar, Urs Fischer: Paintings 1998-2017, Brooklyn, 2019, pp. 380–381 (illustrated)



aluminum panel, aramid honeycomb, two-component polyurethane adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, steel screws, steel dowels, washers, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, acrylic silkscreen medium and acrylic paint, in 2 parts
each 130 x 81 1/8 in. (330.2 x 206.1 cm)
overall 130 x 162 1/2 x 7/8 in. (330.2 x 412.8 x 2.2 cm)

Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $693,000

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022