Art critique

Can raw materials really criticize the culture of raw materials?

LOS ANGELES — For an exhibition entitled chaos, and seemingly about the cacophony of man-made things in the world, Urs Fischer’s exposition is surprisingly restrained. Presented by Gagosian at the former Marciano Art Foundation, the exhibition begins with a selection of objects on Lightbox tables, mostly former Salvation Army type objects, some vaguely representing different moments in time and different places. (for example, a map of Europe is next to a mini Canadian flag), but apparently all the accumulated waste of 20th century capitalism from the world’s richest countries.

The tables, along with a short video on Fischer’s process, are just the prelude; the centerpiece is 500 short videos (called “digital sculptures”) from the series CHAOS #1–#501projected on three large screens, of two digitized objects crossing and converging towards each other, accompanied by a live piano improvisation by Pete Drungle.

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 to Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

According to the press release, the videos are intended to “generate an unsettling and unsettling ‘collision of things.’ Most pairings were based on contrasting types (e.g. a Chinese vase and a camouflage down jacket), textures (e.g. a glow stick and a chocolate bar; a fish and an X-ray) or, possibly, classes alleged socio-economic (e.g. a candelabra and a K-Mart baseball cap). The most engaging video was a dance between a hammer and a nail that anthropomorphized the two enough to generate a sense of pathos. Everything else appeared as a forced incongruity (for example, a “Ken” doll in its packaging and a copy of Marx Capital) or more or less random juxtaposition.

Fischer has created playful and unexpected works in the past – for example, a wax self-portrait sculpture that melts over time (“Untitled,” 2011) or whimsical installations by oversized hanging raindrops. Neither example makes a deep statement, but they do speak to his mind. In both cases, their success depends on the physical presence of the objects (in this last case, the immersive effect), and on the artist who draws on his imagination. Between the thrift store stuff gathered, on tables and floating in the video space, chaos is light on these two elements.

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 to Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

An art historical reference – Duchamp’s deconstructed “Bicycle Wheel”, its floating parts – may be an attempt to contextualize the videos in art history, but it ultimately highlights Duchamp’s radicalism and the fact that the ready-made has been done to death since the original “Bicycle Wheel” in 1913. If Fischer intended to make a point about art and consumerism, reorienting Duchamp in a gallery exhibition is not enough.

Fischer doesn’t really need to have a point, though. It’s easy to forget at the Marciano Art Foundation, housed in a former Scottish Rite Masonic temple building, that chaos is a commercial gallery exhibition. Perhaps the commodity status of the videos themselves is a meta-commentary on consumer culture gone mad (although merging two objects doesn’t go wild), and maybe that’s a reason for be sufficient. The press release also notes that Fischer has partnered with MakersPlace to create a series of NFTs. But given the opportunity to say something worthwhile—about capitalism, its attendant environmental destruction, or even self-definition through objects—rather than saying nothing, why not?

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 to Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 to Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 continues at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation (4357 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA) through October 29. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.