Art That Reclaims the Ignored

Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better

an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, February 5–April 27, 2016; and the Museo Jumex, Mexico City, June 9–September 17, 2016
Catalog of the exhibition edited by Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman
Guggenheim Museum/ DelMonico/Prestel, 379 pp., $52.00
Small clay sculptures from Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s series Suddenly This Overview (1981–present), which depict, according to Sanford Schwartz, ‘historical events, moments that might have been, and visualizations of age-old sayings and concepts we believe we ought to know,’ as well as ‘everyday scenes and objects.’ Clockwise from top left: Book and Reader, Galileo Galilei Shows Two Monks That the World Is Round, The Alchemist I, and The Dog of the Inventor of the Wheel Feels the Satisfaction of His Master.
Peter Fischli and David Weiss/Jason Klimatsas/Fischli Weiss Archive, Zurich
Small clay sculptures from Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s series Suddenly This Overview (1981–present), which depict, according to Sanford Schwartz, ‘historical events, moments that might have been, and visualizations of age-old sayings and concepts we believe we ought to know,’ as well as ‘everyday scenes and objects.’ Clockwise from top left: Book and Reader, Galileo Galilei Shows Two Monks That the World Is Round, The Alchemist I, and The Dog of the Inventor of the Wheel Feels the Satisfaction of His Master.

Delightful and funny aren’t words one regularly associates with contemporary art, but they certainly fit aspects of the work of Peter Fischli and David Weiss. At least, I heard a fair amount of giggling at the Guggenheim Museum’s beautifully laid-out retrospective of the Swiss collaborative team. Not that they were exactly entertainers. (One speaks of their partnership in the past tense because, although Fischli is sixty-three, Weiss died in 2012, at sixty-five.) In work straddling photography, sculpture, films, installation art, and much else, they were more like wry magicians—and magicians with an underlying moral bent.

Their subject was the everyday, or real, world we all see and don’t pay much attention to and the random notions and musings that pass through our minds and that we tend to forget. Gentle, playful, and ironic, they sought to reshape ordinary and omnipresent objects and thoughts—without, in the process, losing sight of the ordinariness. Their ultimate point, one believes, was a kind of reclamation of the ignored.

The Guggenheim’s show provides the first comprehensive look New York has had of artists whose names have been familiar in the art world, and who have been seen in good-sized shows that traveled to American cities in previous years, but who remain, I think, barely known to the general museum-going public. The Zurich-based duo, who met in 1977—they connected through the new punk rock scene of that moment, which also influenced art and political activism—were in tune with each other from the first (and Fischli, since his partner’s death, has continued on projects left unfinished). Many of the hallmarks of the vast amount of work they created in the thirty-three years that they functioned together are present in their first venture. Called Sausage Series (and made before they thought of themselves as a team), it is comprised of a number of color photographs that…



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