The Answer Is ‘Why?’ Urs Fischer Overwhelms at New Gavin Brown Show

On Friday, we offered you an ambiguous-sounding sneak preview of Urs Fischer’s current exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, the artist’s

One of Mr. Fischer's table tops. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown's Enterprise

On Friday, we offered you an ambiguous-sounding sneak preview of Urs Fischer’s current exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, the artist’s first major New York outing since his New Museum retrospective two years ago. On Saturday night, we attended the show’s opening; herewith a more complete description.

The random-pounding-on-the-keyboard title of Urs Fischer’s show with his partner Cassandra MacLeod at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, “dngszjkdufiybgxfjkglijkhtrkydjkhgddghjkd,” is more descriptive than one might think. The exhibition is a collection of 174 tables, each with clusters of images printed on their surfaces. They are scattered about the three large rooms of the gallery and stacked atop one another, filling the space so completely that it is difficult to move through.

“It’s stressful and claustrophobic,” one audience member, a mother trying to push a stroller through the space, said to no one in particular.

There are all kinds of images culled from comic books, middlebrow magazine photo shoots, advertisements, pornography. One table features a collage of photographs of smiling plastic surgeons. On another is a cartoon muscle man ejaculating into his hand, which is superimposed over Johannes Vermeer’s cheerily domestic 17th-century painting The Kitchen Maid.

Even the most workaday images morph into something grotesque in this environment. One table, the largest in the space (most were the size of a typical square breakfast table, but this was long and “L” shaped), contained a series of pictures of Ryan Gosling from celebrity magazines, juxtaposed with a close up of a keyboard and an iPhone. Tucked in between these was a photograph of a man in a Chuck E. Cheese mask, snorting a large line of white powder with a rolled up piece of computer paper.

Most images are lewd, at once hilarious and disturbing (depending on one’s sense of humor): Jesus on the cross, his body bloody and mangled, sits in the passenger seat of a car advertisement featuring a mother and her daughter smiling as they drive along peacefully. This irony is doubled by the image’s presence on a square table with four thin legs, a quotidian object that people eat and drink off of.

Looking at a table that featured a collage of faces of artists, we found ourselves drawn to the visage of Julian Schnabel, his hair slicked back and his eyes obscured by a pair of yellow-lensed sunglasses. When we looked up, there was Mr. Schnabel, his clothes speckled in paint, lurching through the space with a heavy frown. At a table that showed an anime-ish woman with pornographic proportions—complete with a sizable penis—ejaculating onto a Jackson Pollock, we saw a man take out his phone and snap a picture of the woman, but only from the waist up. Children ran around, hitting the tables with their palms, trying to climb on top of them.

“The answer is: ‘Why?’” Performa’s director, RoseLee Goldberg said to us cryptically as she inspected one of the tables. That’s as good an explanation as any.

“dngszjkdufiybgxfjkglijkhtrkydjkhgddghjkd” would also work.

As people grew comfortable in the room—as over-stimulation gave way to humor—they began to sit down at the tables, and rest their elbows on them. By evening’s end, they were sitting around and chatting, as one might in any kitchen. It’s not the first time an artist has made furniture – the German sculptor Franz West comes immediately to mind, but his work, and those of other artists toeing the art/design divide, tends to be less visually stimulating. Mr. Fischer bombards us with all the disjointed ephemera we are encountered with every day in New York; he elevates the chaos merely by depicting it, only to break down that significance by empowering his audience: they make use of his art objects in a way that wouldn’t be possible if those objects were hanging on a wall, a contrast made explicit by the presence of Ms. MacLeod’s canvases.

As the gallery’s guests made themselves at home, the conversation moved away entirely from “what does it all mean?” to how much they’d like to put one of the tables in their kitchen or living room. We overheard an interior decorator, hired by an endocrinologist to redesign his entire house, ask one of the directors of Gavin Brown how much the table with the plastic surgeons on it cost. The director was flipping through the catalog, marking many of the tables “Sold.”

“$61,000,” she said. “Not bad right?”

The Answer Is ‘Why?’ Urs Fischer Overwhelms at New Gavin Brown Show