Through his diverse body of work, Urs Fischer demonstrates his ability to shift and change his modes of creation, proving his role as an artist who is working tirelessly on the cusp of our definitions of visual practice. Underscored by a palpable confidence, Fischer’s works shift between staunch physicality and the fluid realm of the artist’s joke. Quantum, one of Fischer’s most recent forays into photo-based compositions, is a vibrant example of his ingenuity in combining appropriated imagery with a deft eye for color and light. Marrying pop sensibilities with a tinge of digital materiality, Fischer creates an undulating composition rife with optical intrigue. Known widely for his sculptural incursions, Fischer is adamant about creating work with no simple explanation. “Art is like people,” he claims, “you cannot reduce them to a couple of sentences, they are much more complex, much richer” (U. Fischer, quoted in interview with M. Gioni, in Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2009, p. 62). Positioning himself at the locus of an ever-changing visual inventory, he is equally entranced by melting candles shaped like celebrities and aluminum rhinoceros in pop-up galleries as he is with the history of painting and Hollywood. A truly post-medium artist, Fischer’s creative impulses take many forms, but all remain true to a mind fully immersed in our culture at large.
There are different layers of painting, even though it’s based on photography. It was made by hand and transformed again and again.”
Beginning with a source image from the 1946 Hollywood movie The Postman Always Rings Twice starring Lana Turner and John Garfield, Quantum quickly devolves into dazzling planes of competing colors and shadows. Appearing in three discernible layers, the initial image is repeated in triplicate with various effects applied to each copy. The outer portion, showing a man’s ear on the left and a woman’s face and eye on the right, is a purple-hued replica of the original image. Moving inward, a grayscale negative shows the woman’s mouth and nose while also revealing a masculine hand on her neck. The ambiguous tension from this action serves to heighten the work’s dynamic presence. The innermost layer, which makes up the visual core of the work, gives form to the two figures’ faces quite near to each other in another negative representation filled with a colorful gradient moving from cool blue on the bottom to hot orange on the top. Fischer arranges each layer in a way that they cast shadows on those below, giving the appearance of a three-dimensional collage to an otherwise planar work. In an interview, the artist was asked if he considers works like Quantum to be photography or painting. To this he answered, “I don’t care. We actually established that it is basically painting, at least if a Warhol is a painting, for example. But it doesn’t really matter. There are different layers of painting, even though it’s based on photography. It was made by hand and transformed again and again” (U. Fischer, quoted in A. Leturcq, “A Meeting with Urs Fischer,” Crash, 2020). By using screenprinting techniques in the process of creating these massive works, Fischer further aligns himself with Warhol and the history of Pop. Appropriating images from mass media and movies, his pieces pay respect to the artist’s forebears while re-contextualizing each image and object in an ever-evolving personal narrative.
Born in Switzerland, Fischer is now based in New York where the rapidly shifting city both fuels and mirrors his creative output. Seeking to push artforms to their very limits, he has used everything from industrial casting to collage to food in order to achieve his particular vision. Quantum grapples with the archive and remarks on the visual while past projects have dealt with entropy and time. In 2004, he created Bread House, a full-sized Swiss chalet made of actual loaves that was then left for the pigeons and mold. His more recent work with Classical-sized wax sculptural portraits takes everyone from artist and friend Rudolf Stingel to Leonardo DiCaprio as their soon-to-be-melted muses. Given the pop culture references and seeming disparities in these subjects, one might wonder where the connections lie. Fischer, speaking wryly, replied to this question in a typical roundabout fashion, noting, “It’s kind of arbitrary. It’s not about our culture now. It’s just objects I choose. I like that they are not very interesting things—or they are. It depends on your level of attention. And I don’t care about big or small. I’m interested in collisions of things, and how objects relate to each other” (U. Fischer, quoted in C. Tompkins, “The Imperfectionist,” The New Yorker, October 12, 2019). When does a simple collision become a provocative idea? Where does play and bravado become artistic work? The line between tongue-in-cheek and boundary-pushing is thin, and Fischer rides that border with a confident gaze ever-forward.
Proceeds from the sale of Quantum will benefit CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), a disaster response organization founded by Sean Penn and Ann Lee and dedicated to saving lives impacted by or that are vulnerable to crisis. Since March 2020, CORE has been working on the frontlines with public and private partners to provide free COVID-19 testing, essential resources, contact tracing programs, and life-saving vaccines to communities most affected by the pandemic. CORE’s mission aims to address the inherent intersection of disaster and social justice; whether it be in their domestic or international relief programs, CORE is the first on the ground to provide critical services to communities who need them most.
Ann Lee, one of the co-founders and Chief Executive Officer of CORE, commented, “We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 has laid bare the deep inequalities that people in this country face. We are working directly with marginalized communities to ensure that those who need vaccines getthem. We are immensely grateful to Christie’s for their partnership to raise critical funds and awareness, and are sincerely humbled by those who have so generously donated pieces to benefit CORE’s continued work on the frontlines of this crisis. History will remember those who are rising to the occasion during this inflection point for the human race."
Urs Fischer, the artist of the present work, adds "On my bike rides I see many CORE volunteers at the COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites throughout Los Angeles, working hand-in-hand with local authorities and others. The image of Sean clearing the devastated streets of Port-Au-Prince with heavy machinery in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti keeps coming to my mind. We learn what a difference oneperson’s dedication to helping others can make. Truly inspiring."
Throughout the years, CORE has received an overwhelming support from the art world and, through its partnership with Christie's, has been able to raise over $4million in auctions to support programs in Haiti, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the US.
The selection of contemporary artworks has been generously donated by the artists themselves, with proceeds from the sale directly benefiting CORE’s COVID-19 programs across Los Angeles, Navajo Nation, Washington D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail). © Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.