Urs Fischer is a neo-Dada artist, born in Switzerland but operating from New York. In the true spirit of Dada, there is often tense provocation in his work, seen most recently in his 2013 exhibition Melodrama, where a sculpted nude basically crumbled before the audience, her bits dropping off slowly but glaringly, like trickles of snow from a mountain moments before the theatrical, doom-laden avalanche.
If you managed to see the heads of nudes in Melodrama, you were lucky – either they fell off seconds into the opening of the exhibition, or they were never sculpted in the first place. Urs Fischer is not a sculptor in the Michelangelo tradition. Melodrama, indeed, is much more in tune with the Dadaist’s of the 1920’s – the Duchamps and Picabia’s of the world. The reaction people would have had when witnessing one of Fischer’s nudes losing a clay nipple, the sound of it plopping on the floor clear and echoey, was probably a little similar to the collective intake of breath when Duchamp first unveiled his public urinal and claimed that it was art.
There is more to Fischer than a used urinal, though. The art movement he is attached to – neo-Dadaism – has much more substance than Dadaism in its original form. If we are to read nothing from Duchamp’s urinal, save for the fact that anything can be art as long as you put your signature to it, there is a lot to be read from Fischer’s crumbling, shameless nudes. Perhaps it’s that these wretched pieces of clay are just like us. They’re reclining, sleeping, posing. And they’re slowly dying, their matter quietly dripping off them. Life slowly ebbing away whilst people walk around us.
Such probings into the human condition may be futile, of course. It’s never truly clear what the tattooed Fischer is trying to convey to his audience. Back in 2004, he produced a work entitled Bread House, which was a three-dimensional piece of art composed entirely of bread loaves (as you might expect). It’s the kind of art – just like Melodrama – that breaks into your memory and stays there like a squatter for years on end, refusing to move. You don’t forget Fischer’s art, even if you cannot work out its meaning. Fischer himself says that “art works best in people’s memories.”
Perhaps the point is that, once his work is lodged in your memory, you will unfailingly return to it now and then over the next decade, asking yourself, “just what was the meaning of that?” And maybe, eventually, you’ll work it out via sheer persistence. Back in 2003, Fischer unveiled What If The Phone Rings?, another collection of nudes who had wicks struck into their bodies. At the start of the exhibition, the tip of the wicks were lit, until eventually all the nudes melted. Once they had melted, they were recast. It’s this kind of personality displayed by Fischer that – allegedly – drives curators to madness. If nothing else, Fischer is an interesting artist with a visual idiom that should be cherished. It will be interesting to see what he does next.