The Provocative Urs Fischer on his “Problem Paintings”
Urs Fischer’s name keeps the company of art world provocateurs like Jeff Koons, Dieter Roth, Maurizio Cattelan, Marcel Duchamp, and Martin Kippenberger, but the artist—who’s jackhammered and drilled his way through the world’s most prominent art spaces—has managed to carve a stardom that’s uniquely his own. The New York-based, Swiss-born artist has been called “contemporary art’s leading rebel without a cause,” and rightly so: In 2007, jaws dropped for the 38- by 30-foot crater he dug in the floor of Gavin Brown’s enterprise; in 2009, he taunted visitors to the New Museum with a peek-a-boo tongue, darting in and out of a hole in the wall; and in 2013 alone, he’s followed a career retrospective at MOCA, Los Angeles—complete with gargantuan fried eggs and a house made primarily of bread—with a solo show at Gagosian in Rome, where “Problem Paintings” give stock photographs and portraits of Hollywood starlets peculiar silkscreen add-ons, like cross-sections of hard boiled eggs (not unlike last year’s exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills, where starlet faces were again obstructed with mushrooms and beets for noses).
“The funny thing is fruits are more universal than movie stars,” Fischer said of the “Problem Paintings” in a conversation with curator Neville Wakefield. In conjunction with a portfolio of images Fischer made for Garage Magazine—where again, faces are obstructed by a halved cantaloupe, a sunny-side-up fried egg, a raw steak, a banana—Fischer reflected on his not-so-subtle tendency to bring fruit and natural, living materials into his work. Only this time around, the headshots and silkscreen obstructions in the paintings were swapped for real-life juxtapositions: “They’re all photos of things in real life,” he said, “where you lay actual eggs on a face and then photograph it.”
Eggs, in particular, are a recurring motif for Fischer, who recently left Sadie Coles’ booth at Frieze London splattered with an oversized cracked egg, sunny-side-up. It was no surprise, then, to find Frankie, a face overlaid with an egg-as-eyepatch—an otherwise startling image—to be in line with Fischer’s usual bag of tricks.
But why food, one might ask? (And Wakefield did.) “It’s just alive,” Fischer said. “It’s just things that are alive. The great thing about fruit is that it’s basically a mother built around a seed. It’s a disposable mother that’s given with every seed and it builds the nourishing ground around it and decomposes and gives all the essential stuff to this little seed to become something.”
For the inaugural print in Garage Magazine’s Garage Editions, which benefits the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Fischer created Frankie, the smiling face mentioned above. Available for purchase exclusively on Artsy, each print is silkscreened by hand in the artist’s studio, signed and numbered by the artist, and will ship in custom packaging designed especially for the artwork.