Steering clear of chest-beating monumentalism, Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s “Sculpture Now” contains an embarrassment of riches. With 35 significant works by 27 artists crowding the generous spaces of Eva Presenhuber’s gallery, it is nonetheless a self-effacing show. The works have been “arranged”—that is, Fischi and Weiss have made no claims to “curating” this consistently modest show. And while sculpture surveys are a recurring exhibition trope of late, as if the cultural temperature could be measured more accurately in three dimensions, the method is an unpredictable one, as can be seen when comparing this show to the recent “Modern British Sculpture” at the Royal Academy in London, a broader show whose emphasis ultimately fell on sober, totemic pieces. The resulting selection in Zürich, meanwhile, shrugged off solemnities to create a result that would make the sternest of critics smile.
Two smaller works, the 1969 edition Motorradfahrer from Dieter Roth, and cupped hands as a reservoir (2011) by Andrew Lord were the grace notes at the gallery entrance that signalled its opening chord, Oscar Tuazon’s arch of steel, concrete, and wood bemusedly titled Fun (2011). Despite its size and media, the structure sits lightly, and if you look back, it nearly disappears with its silhouette drawing a single graceful line. At its feet is Ugo Rondinone’s diminutive yet menacing cast bronze pinecone still life (2011) whose regimented triangle could be the crest of a secret society or like the formation of fighter planes as seen on the radar screen of War Games. This is the first of numerous complementary pairings that cock a snook at sculpture gallery mores while building nodes of tension between force and fragility, or irony and sincerity.
Next up is Josh Smith’s Stage Painting 6 (2011), a stage with his own name painted on the backdrop, stopping you in your tracks—it’s not exactly a work to be viewed from all sides, but the artist’s own stage where the viewer’s inferior position is non-negotiable. And while Alex Hubbard’s Weekend Pass (2009) may contain a plinth of sorts, it props up a video in which he is the figure circling a variety of objects subjected to not only his gaze but to his destructive manipulations. Matias Faldbakken’s Untitled (Filing Cabinet Sculpture) (2011) gets its shape from resistance: it’s a cluster of filing cabinets crushed by the tight hugs of colorful safety straps (the result here eschews a pedestal, being tied up to the gallery rafters.) Stephen Shearer’s child-like Toolshed Sculpture (2011) appears to be merely what its title suggests, until an occasional muffled guitar riff escapes its confines.
The largest works do their best to disappear by reflecting the viewer—such as Urs Fischer’s four-part mirror work Concert / Cornichon (2011), whose printed surfaces echo those of Pistoletto—or by pretending not to be sculpture at all, like Fischli and Weiss’s own Untitled (five pedestals) (2000-2004). Piled up like redundant museum props, they share a joke at the expense of both abstraction and conceptual art. And Fischli and Weiss’s pedestals are trompe l’oeil cheap MDF panels cast in polyurethane, reifying these normally ignored supports.
The curators (for this they are, despite their low-key approach) make no claims to represent all of sculpture as it is now, and this exhibition is just one personal view of contemporary practice; these artists are unburdened by their forebears, yet stand on their shoulders, all the better to make light of new endeavors. In so doing they have created a sculptural experience in the most classical sense, a promenade amid a host of works that delight, amuse, and, thanks to their lack of pretention, impress.
- 1Dieter Roth, Motorradfahrer, 1969. Metal toy poured over by green acrylic paint on wooden board. 11 cm x 17 cm x 11.5 cm. All images courtesy of Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich.
- 2View of, "Sculpture Now", Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich, 2011. Photo by Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich.
- 3Alex Hubbard, Weekend Pass, 2009. Video, monitor, plinth. 154 x 76.5 x 30 cm.
- 4View of, "Sculpture Now", Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich, 2011. Photo by Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich.
- 5View of, "Sculpture Now", Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich, 2011. Photo by Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich.
INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, London
GIANNI MANHATTAN, Vienna
REDCAT, Los Angeles
JESSICA SILVERMAN GALLERY, San Francisco