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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Gagosian Gallery, Urs Fischer:schmutz schmutz, 5 April - 26 May 2012

  • Catalogue Essay

    Rooted in Art movements of the past and yet steadfastly contemporary, Urs Fischer’s work looks to Cubism and Dada amongst others. By introducing notions of transience, fragility and the juxtaposition of materials, his work challenges the way we view art. The present lot, Nail Duo, exemplifies his unique style which has earned him great success since the beginning of his career. This particular work shows nails blown up to a grand scale, altering the viewer’s perception of space. Through this enlargement, importance is given to the mundane and this everyday item becomes worthy of aesthetic delectation. This appropriation of everyday household objects to ‘high art’ is a common theme in his work and nods back to the use of the ‘readymade’, first used by Dada artists.

    “A recurring point of departure for this process is the association of ideas or objects belonging to high and low culture, exposing their varied constituent aspects and revealing the often unknown properties they possess. Fischer avails himself of the products of consumer society, treating them as objets trouvés. The result is a singular amalgamation of the historical avant-gardes and the neo-avant-gardes, a synthesis that is in a continuous state of evolution” (Pier Paolo Pancotto, Artforum, 2013)

    The title Nail Duo links and personifies the sculptures and the transformation of small nails to human size with an upright stance serves to characterise them. Consequently, they can be read as man and woman which is emphasised by the more rounded appearance of the left nail, indicating the female. The curve represents a breast or perhaps pregnancy and the shadow cast on the wall behind highlights this curvature, contrasting the straighter, more phallic male counterpart. The representation of man and woman nods back to the many couple portraits of art history, such as Jan van Eyck’s famous Arnolfini portrait. Fischer shows a persistently modern approach to this theme, using bronze in a metallic blue to further remove it from typical representation. Similar use of machines to show man and woman is prevalent in the art of Francis Picabia, of whom he is a fan. However, Fischer takes a more palpable approach to this notion, taking his mechanical elements off the page and enlarging them, making them life size. This enlargement immediately gives these sculptures a presence; they demand attention as more than just nails, they are humanized. As he explains, “…you replace an actual living thing with something that resembles or reminds you of this thing, like a monument. You always aim, as a sculptor, to capture something that feels like it is alive, you want it to resemble something that’s living” (the artist, Urs Fischer and Sandra Wagner, 2013)

    The piece is composed of two nails leaning against a wall, enlarged to human height and cast in bronze, throwing shadows up the wall behind them. The polyester material of these shadows stands in contrast to the bronze sculptures; this juxtaposition of materials, in this case the hard, shiny metal with the soft, matte material behind, is a recognisable technique in Fischer’s work. He uses this to encourage the viewer to reassess the object at hand; the emphasis is on the glean of the metallic blue bronze, highlighting the aesthetic quality of the material and elevating the simple nail further as ‘high art’. Another recurring practice of Fischer’s is instilling a sense of fragility and mortality in his sculptures. Previous pieces such as What if the Phone Rings, 2003 or Rotten Foundation, 1998 are time sensitive, therefore they are vulnerable as their disintegration is imminent. In the present piece, the straighter nail balances on a small point whereas the more distorted nail teeters to the side, giving the sense that they could fall at any point. This fragility gives an element of transience to his works which boldly redefines notions of conventional sculpture, traditionally intended as solid, perpetual monuments.

    Fischer’s use of nails to represent man and woman adds an element of humour to the piece. It is unclear whether this insignificant object is given importance with its enlargement and transformation to human status or perhaps humans themselves are shown as irrelevant. Showing man and woman as a nameless duo of nails subverts individuality and raises questions of human autonomy. This witty work shows a modern take on the ‘readymade’, encouraging the viewer to acknowledge the everyday whilst also playing with notions of individuality, mortality and what we deem ‘high culture’. Fischer’s contemporary portrayal of man and woman is as amusing as it is profound, looking to the past whilst continuously pushing forward the dialogue of art history.


Nail Duo

galvanized bronze, cast bronze, washers, screws, wash primer, polyurethane filler, polyester filler, polyester putty, one-component fill primer, waterborne base coat, polyurethane matte clearcoat
(i) Left Nail 157 x 67 x 60 cm. (61 3/4 x 26 3/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
(ii) Right Nail 194 x 49 x 34 cm. (76 3/8 x 19 1/4 x 13 3/8 in.)
Overall dimensions 194 x 192 x 60 cm. (76 3/8 x 75 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.)

(i) Numbered '301/3 31' on the reverse and underside.
(ii) Numbered '302/1 32' on the reverse and underside.
This work is number 2 from and edition of 3 plus one 1 artist's proof.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £230,500

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