Urs Fischer: ‘I Try to Create Beauty’

PHOTO by Dmitriy Serebryakov / TASS
Afisha.Daily spoke to Swiss artist about his vision, art, the concept of beauty, and snobbery

Swiss artist Urs Fischer stands alone. He creates masterpieces from bread and wax, breaks down metaphorical and physical barriers, and best of all: his exhibit is finally coming to Moscow. The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, will open a gallery dedicated to his works on June 10.

Afisha.Daily: Why did you call your exhibit “Small Axe”? Is it because the building has a certain shape?

Urs Fischer: No, it’s the name of a Bob Marley song. I had his lyrics stuck in my head while I worked at Garage. Although I do like the building. It’s amazing, however somewhat hard to work in: it has an older design, after all. The wide space with low ceilings gives me the impression of a looming sky. The show will consist of two parts: my own pieces and public collaborations. Both parts will have identical elements – it’s fundamentally the same, but different.

Why do you do collaborations with the public? What’s the reasoning behind it?

It’s more relaxed. Art in which the audience participates is not about showmanship or perfectionism, it’s about making everything more accessible. Garage hosts many lectures and it's appreciated by the public. I’m not educated enough to have a valid opinion, but I think its popularity stems from Russian art being divided into two parts for a long time: governmental art and what artists could perform in their personal spaces. One part was too small and the other one was too big. The situation at hand is the result of this imbalance. You have a lot of artists who were involved in non-classic art forms, such as performances. Generally speaking, engaging the public is always beneficial, as it brings art out of isolation. Well, that’s my approach to it, anyway.

2014 © Urs Fischer

When you’re setting up an exhibition, you often break through walls and you made a huge hole in a gallery floor for the project “You.” Are you uncomfortable with the traditional white cube format of galleries and do you think it’s too expensive to display contemporary art? For example, they had to lower the ceiling for your New Museum exhibition in New York.

I’m not that worried about the location – the space can be either good or bad depending on how you utilize it. The term ‘expensive’ is relative and depends on the situation and local economy. Some people might find a coffee at Garage too expensive.

Do you monitor the price of your work? Are you disappointed to see them lose value? Take that bear with the lamp on its head – it was going for 10 million, but eventually was worth half that amount.

Do you want to talk about money? We can do it, but that wouldn’t be a conversation about art. I don’t create things with a price tag in mind. Otherwise I’d be running a business, not making art.

Old poor me. 2011 © Urs Fischer

What’s your biggest gripe with contemporary art? This monetary aspect?

I’m put off by snobbery, I can’t stand it. Snobbery means worshiping a theory. People get an education just for the sake having an education – everything is streamlined. You need to get a degree to make an exhibition and a higher degree to teach. Somewhere in this process the most important aspect of art is lost. I believe that art celebrates life, not illustrates a particular theory.

Art is under too much control. Just like money, a theory is an attempt at control whereas I prefer everything to naturally run its course. I think it’s excessive to try and categorize everything. That’s how you get that fear – the audience is afraid of seeing contemporary art and not understanding it. It is quite limiting. It’s great when you can look at something and judge whether you like it or not. When you look at something but don't get it, art becomes too exclusive, instead of being the opposite.

So how do we tackle this?

I don’t know. But I believe that we live in a great age for art. A lot of things are happening and everything is changing so fast. Things come and go, but that doesn’t matter – sometimes they make a comeback.

YES. 2011 - present day. Unfired clay sculptures modeled on-site by multiple authors. Dimensions variable. A view of the installation at DESTE Foundation’s project space in a former slaughterhouse on the Greek island of Hydra. © Urs Fischer

So what era do we live in? Over the last century, we had Dadaism, Avant-garde, Expressionism, Conceptual art, Pop-art, New British art but what phase is art going through today?

Take a look at contemporary pop-art. What is it worth to you? Just that it is made by a pop-artist, that they are renowned? Maybe this work is a masterpiece? I don’t care about genre when I take in art – I find its value in other things.

So what is this value? How do you tell good and bad art apart?

Good art is not just a painting – it’s a painting that makes you think about art in a slightly different tone. In the world of art no one does anything new. You know, it’s like dealing with language. No one is making up new words, but the language keeps on changing. Society is what makes language modern – if we heard people talk twenty years ago, we’d understand just how significant the changes are.

Art is just like that, always evolving as a single organism. In the world of art there is no opposition. Good artists stand out in the sense that their creations make you reevaluate the way the world works.

Unnamed. 2015 © Urs Fischer

So where is art going, in this one beautiful unified flow?

It’s been constantly travelling in one direction from the very start, the stone age. It just moves with everything that goes on in the world.

Is that why your works have so many allusions to other artists? Bruce Nauman often worked with wax, and your toilet with fruit is essentially a reimagined Duchamp’s Fountain…

You can pretend to follow tradition, you can pretend that you down. The outcome is the same, regardless. You’re a part of something greater and cannot exist in a vacuum.

Incidentally, I know that you’re not a fan of Kandinsky and Chagall, why is that?

It’s not that I don’t like them – I just never really understood them. Their work doesn't invoke anything deep in me. I recently viewed their works and realized something: both of these artists have acrobats and figures soaring through the air, depicting sky and not earth. They have no gravity. It’s not good and it’s not bad – it’s just about the sky. I came from a country surrounded by mountains. Here you have an open sky, you can appreciate it from anywhere.

Small Bird, Big Egg, 2011 © Urs Fischer

The Gagosian Gallery mentioned that you were solving the problems of contemporary sculpture. Would you agree?

Of course, contemporary sculpture has issues. You need to consider gravity and other aspects of reality. You need to expand our understanding of what a sculpture can be. Take a hole in the floor, created by heavy hardware – what is it in essence? It’s a sculpture, just in another form.

Why are you such an avid fan of sculpture? You said in an interview once that “everyone likes objects” – why is that?

Well, not really. I think that people prefer paintings – they’re already looking at a picture. Sculptures are more difficult to take in – depending on lighting and space, you need to create the image in your head. It is all subjective, anyway. Some people have difficulty appreciating 3D objects, others find paintings challenging.

Other material make it extremely arduous to create your own work. Say you make something out of ceramic, people will see the ceramic first, and only then their attention shifts to your work. You know, from first glance they’ll say “Oh, yes, it’s ceramic, okay.” The same goes for bronze. It’s very challenging to wrestle some mediums into submission, you need to be a true master to express yourself through them.

What is beauty to you? Is it even important?

I try to create beauty. I think about it a lot, but I have yet to comprehend what it is.

YES. 2011 - present day. Unfired clay sculptures modeled on-site by multiple authors. Dimensions variable. A view of the installation. Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2016

As a former bouncer, is there anyone you’d not let in to your exhibit?

Everyone’s welcome to come.

What about art critics?

I’ll tell you something about art critics: if they’re ambitious enough and they don’t like your work, then it’s fine. But often their ambitions are limited to them complaining about the way the world works. You get used to this constant nagging and you find it hard to have even a shred of respect for them. That’s it.

Author: Marina Antsiperova