I went to see Urs Fischer's solo show Marguerite de Ponty at the New Museum yesterday, and I was appalled to see so much space devoted to such blatantly derivative work. Appropriation as a statement is one thing--I got over my rage at Sherrie Levine's career a few years ago--but presenting copies of other artist's pieces as your own is another. Fischer's rip-offs are inferior even to Levine's because they are technically lazy. The aluminum enlargements of small pieces of clay could be interesting, but their grimy, cheap looking finish destroys the appeal. Fischer wants to make fabricated metal monoliths in the style of Jeff Koons or Zhan Wang, but he won't expend the energy to do them well.
Droopy sculptures of crutches, a piano, and a lamp post are the most appalling objects in the show. Fischer lifts tropes that are directly identified with other artists: melting pianos and crutches litter Salvador Dali's dreamscapes, and soft sculptures are the most distinct invention of Claes Oldenburg's career. The inclusion of the collapsing lamppost is just awkward: the late Martin Kippenberger used the same idea in many of his installations. The lamp post was almost a self-portrait, its swaying form standing in for the flamboyantly alcoholic artist. Fischer and Kippenberger are both eclectic bad-boy sculptural dilettantes with major retrospectives open right now, but The Problem Prespective is far more exciting and challenging than Marguerite de Ponty. It's imprudent of Fischer to remind viewers of a similar, superior artist.
Dangling croissants and wiggling tongues are carelessly conceived boilerplate Dada; the hall of mirrored photo boxes is more impressive. Fischer handles subtleties of tone and texture masterfully in two dimensions, and the best piece in the show suggests that sculpture may not be his forte. One of the galleries is wallpapered with photos of its own walls and ceiling, placed slightly off-kilter to reveal their nature. The photographs capture colors created by fluorescent light that are invisible to the human eye. I'm not sure what process created this effect, but the results are beautiful. The exit sign looks seared into the wall, and the gentle gradient of secondary colors is hypnotic. This sensitivity is markedly absent from the spray-painted piano.
Marguerite de Ponty undermines the New Museum's image as an alternative to the practices of the museum-industrial complex. Urs Fischer's work is a tired redux of Koonsian (or Hirstian) spectacle, without the polish or economic relevance. If the New Museum is to add anything to the cultural landscape, it must take viewers further afield.