Monday, November 26, 2007

Urs Fischer, "CAN YOU DIG IT?" By Jerry Saltz


At Gavin Brown, Urs Fischer takes a jackhammer to Chelsea itself.

By Jerry Saltz

Published Nov 25, 2007

Urs Fischer has reduced Gavin Brown's Enterprise
to a hole in the ground, and it is one of the
most splendid things to have happened in a New
York gallery in a while. Experientially rich,
buzzing with energy and entropy, crammed with
chaos and contradiction, and topped off with the
saga of subversion that is central both to the
history of the empty-gallery-as-a-work-of-art but
also to the Gavin Brown experience itself, this
work is brimming with meaning and mojo. It was
also a Herculean project.

A 38-foot-by-30-foot crater, eight feet deep,
extends almost to the walls of the gallery,
surrounded by a fourteen-inch ledge of concrete
floor. A sign at the door cautions, THE
DEATH; intrepid viewers can, all the same, inch
their way around the hole. Fischer's pit is
titled You, and it took ten days to build,
costing around $250,000 of Brown's money. (Heaven
only knows what his landlord thought of it.) The
gallery's ground-level garage doors facilitated
the jackhammering and removal of the concrete
floor and the use of a backhoe to excavate tons
of dirt and debris, after which a crew closed off
the space with immaculate white walls. There's
also a cramped antechamber, superfluous but well
executed: A smaller reproduction of the main
gallery, down to the air ducts and electrical
outlets, it's sort of a mini-Me You. Ducking
through its pint-size entrance is like going
though a door in Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland. You have to crouch as you enter and
watch where you step in preparation for the more
precarious and thrilling main event beyond.

Fischer's extraordinary gesture touches on the
tradition of indoor earthworks that includes
pieces from the sixties and seventies by Gordon
Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria,
Michael Heizer, Chris Burden, and others, while
also bringing together many of his ongoing themes
of transparency, transformation, disruption, and
destruction. He's cut holes in gallery and museum
walls and created sculptures that merge with one
another. You simultaneously attacks and
fetishizes the attributes of galleries, the
qualities that the critic Brian O'Doherty has
described as "something of the sacredness of
churches, the austerity of courtrooms, the
mysteriousness of research laboratories,
something that, together with stylish designs,
makes them unique cultic places of the
aesthetic." You is like a nest, a bunker, or
Caspar David Friedrich's The Wreck of Hope, his
painting of a ship smashed to pieces in a sea of
ice. It is a perfect metaphor for a revved-up art
world as it is stripped down by the market.

In a very minimalist yet surreal and
expressionistic way, You makes space palpable.
Initially the chasm dominates your vision and
takes over the room, like Magritte's painting of
a giant green apple filling space. As your vision
adjusts, your inner ear goes into high gear as
you realize that while standing at floor level
you're no longer at the base of the gallery but
halfway up the walls. The room transforms into
something unmoored, like a Tiepolo or Correggio
painting. As you survey everything from this
unfamiliar perch, your eye takes over and details
come into focus. This I-can-see-everything
realism echoes the experience of paintings by
Ingres and David.

You is less a Deconstructivist avant-garde
gesture or a parodic work of anti-art than it is
an inversion machine. To be in it is to be above
and below at the same time. You are indoors and
outdoors; there are the perfect white walls of
the gallery and this red-brown New York earth.
Jeff Wall has talked about how painting a person
is "the simultaneous trace of two bodies and so
is inherently erotic." You is a tracing of
Brown's gallery and galleries in general, and it
pulsates with erotic energy. Intensely lit and
rigidly framed, it also has the abstract presence
of a photograph, recalling the trench in Wall's
own photos Dead Troops Talk and The Flooded Grave.

A hidden layer of content adds more meaning.
Gavin Brown was a leading member of a wave of
dealers who opened galleries in the midst of the
early-nineties art-market downturn and who helped
reinvigorate New York. Over the years his gallery
has been a site of experimentation, provocation,
and community. Among other accomplishments, Brown
was the first New York gallerist to mount solo
shows of Chris Ofili, Jake and Dino Chapman,
Piotr Uklanski, and Anselm Reyle. But as Brown
helped frame the discourse of the nineties, and
rightly profited from it, the recent money frenzy
has seen Ofili leave for David Zwirner and
Uklanski and Reyle defect to Gagosian; the
Chapmans now show at Gagosian, too. You suggests
that exhibitions themselves have become
conventional, that too many of them go down easy
or look the same-product after product, all lined
up on the wall or in a room, like orderly items
for sale. Thus, You is a kind of warning sign. At
the same time, it's making fun of the convention.
After all, there is a clownlike exaggeration and
madness to the piece.

Mostly, You is an amazing sight that warps
psychic space. It's a bold act that brings on
claustrophobia and agoraphobia at the same time,
makes you look at galleries in a new way, and
serves as a bracing palate cleanser.

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Urs Fischer. Gavin Brown's Enterprise. Through December 22.

Copyright © 2006, New York Magazine Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved


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