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Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty at the NEW MUSEUM

James Kalm braves fall showers and trains his way to the Bowery’s New Museum for the first major museum exhibition by Urs Fischer. Lionized as one of contemporary art’s most distinctive talents, Fischer earned the New York spotlight in 2007 by cutting a hole in the floor of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and digging out tons of dirt leaving a gaping crater for visitors to climb into and explore. As an astute observer of spatial perception, and a master of digital technology with a mischievous sense of humor, the artist uses the most advanced commercial printing techniques to tweak space and challenge “reality”.

Controversies surrounding the extraordinary costs of the installation are addressed by the Director of special Exhibitions Massimiliano Gioni. Gioni made his reputation as a practitioner of “Institutional Critique” with his involvement in sophisticated artistic ploys like the “Wrong Gallery”. Now however, when asked by your reporter about the extraordinary installation costs and rumors of budget over-runs with regards to the Urs Fischer exhibition, he demurs from the “critique” in favor of the “institution”. Includes an interview with Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City.

Fischer's Price?


In another article, I read about a "rumored" cost of $330,000 to mount the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum. I do not know whether this figure was leaked by museum personnel or acquired through other means. You, Fischer's installation consisting of a large hole dug at Gavin Brown Gallery in 2007, necessitated jackhammering the concrete floor, excavating 10,000 cubic feet of New York terra firma, and then restoring the gallery subsequent to the show. It reportedly cost $250,000. Working with Fischer would seem to require deep pockets.

What surprises me is the museum's reluctance to answer your question about costs. This seems coy, given they have hardly been reticent regarding the budget overruns involved in hiring 120 outside contractors (to deal with plumbing, construction, architectural plans, and meeting NYC building codes), shipping large cast aluminum pieces from China by air rather than boat (to meet the exhibition deadline, as the fabrication process took longer than anticipated), and lowering a ceiling by two feet.

All of these production details were widely disseminated to the media prior to the exhibition's opening as part of the New Museum's PR effort: to whet the appetite of the potential audience with tasty "inside information", and to garnish Fischer's reputation as a bad boy artist, whose aesthetic priorities place great demands on the institutions where he deigns to work. The effort of partnering with Fischer is being spun as daring and cutting edge, especially as it is the first one person show at the New Museum that uses all three floors. So apparently they want the idea of large expenditures to be part of the discourse, but not the actual figures. Perhaps there are legal reasons for this.

Normally the expense of an installation would not be an issue for critics. But as with Damien Hirst's $100 million diamond encrusted skull, where the price was intimately entwined with the piece's meaning, artistic aims and burgeoning reputation (in the sense of an artist's performance or cult of personality), Fischer's attitude seems to incorporate a direct challenge to the institution, a speaking of truth to power, a decidedly push/pull relationship where some aspect of violence or violation is playfully inflicted. It is adjunct to his established formal concerns with scale, space, the legacy of Duchamp, the detritus of commodity and consumer culture, image reproduction and trompe l'oeil.

The absence of huge holes punched in the walls and candle wax dripping on the floor, as at the Whitney Biennial, or the funky excavation of dirt at Gavin Brown, makes Fischer's ostensible gesture at New Museum as much a financial violation as a physical one. The excessive logistical underpinning of his production is undoubtedly meant to color our appreciation and analysis of the work.

Should I have a chance to see the exhibition again (my single, fairly brief viewing was during a crowded opening), I might wish to comment more fully on Fischer's Price and its aesthetic ramifications.