Exhibitions / Altri fiori e altre domande / Overview

PETER FISCHLI and DAVID WEISS. ALTRI FIORI E ALTRE DOMANDE
Palazzo Litta, Milan
January 30 – March 16, 2008

Peter Fischli and David Weiss have been working together since 1979, creating videos, installations, photographs and sculptures that turn reality into a workshop of experimentation where all convictions are undermined and held up to merciless criticism, in a blend of discipline and fancy, whimsy and tragedy.

Among the brocade, chinoiserie, and mirrors that decorate the piano nobile of Palazzo Litta, the exhibition “Altri fiori e altre domande” (Other Flowers and Other Questions), curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Bice Curiger and Vicente Todolí, brings together brand-new pieces and over forty older ones by the Swiss duo, who for the occasion, have completely reinvented the traveling retrospective that kicked off at Tate Modern in London and Kunsthaus Zürich.

As one encounters works that are camouflaged among the original furnishings and casually propped on windowsills, mantelpieces and mirrors, wandering through Palazzo Litta feels like exploring a cabinet of curiosities, or even the private residence of some demented collector who has piled up a bizarre assortment of objects; we find mountains made of sausage, or romantic landscapes that peek out of refrigerators, while precariously balanced objects challenge the laws of gravity. 

In Fischli and Weiss’s photographs and videos, even boredom becomes a spectacle, banality is played out in infinite variations, and everything flows in a marvelous stream of multiplicity. In the film The Way Things Go (1986–1987), everyday objects seem to come to life, and all kinds of materials—boxes, bottles, pieces of wood, candles, inner tubes and teapots—crash into each other in an exhilarating sequence of chain reactions, a domino effect where chaos and order compete in an endless struggle. In the artists’ hands, even the most insignificant material can become something magical: in a series of hyper-realistic sculptures, the contents of their studio are meticulously reproduced out of polyurethane, a material as light as it is delicate, seeming to capture all of our world’s fragility. For “Altri fiori e altre domande”, Fondazione Nicola Trussardi has also brought the duo’s very first polyurethane sculpture to Milan: Raft (1982). In another series of pieces, furniture, tools, trees and buildings are cast in rubber and transformed into black monochromes that are weightless and disquieting. Or, in Suddenly this Overview (1981–2006)—presented in Italy for the first time—the artists describe and document key events in human history alongside utterly trivial ones, through a sequence of over ninety small clay models. From the discovery of the Pythagorean theorem to the birth of Albert Einstein, from Galileo Galilei’s revelations to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, from the panic that broke out at the projection of the Lumière Brothers’ first film to the satisfaction of the Rolling Stones after composing one of their best-known masterpieces, these sculptures by Peter Fischli and David Weiss are a collection of unusual events and marginal episodes that didn’t quite make it into the history books. 

The entire exhibition in Palazzo Litta is a labyrinth of images, a voyage through miniature universes and Lilliputian landscapes: An Unsettled Work (2000–2006) is a trip around the world through thousands of images that are blurred and woven together, mixing up scale and perspective, to reveal the dark side of daily life. Elsewhere, we find a river of hypnotic photos depicting hundreds of flowers and mushrooms. Always poised between the sublime and the paranoid, the mundane and the psychedelic, Fischli and Weiss’s work flows like a deranged encyclopedia, an explosion of form, color, light and darkness. The Swiss duo’s humorous approach sometimes takes on a dramatic tinge: the installation Questions (1981–2002/2003), for example, is pervaded by existential doubts, troubling questions, and absurd quandaries that reveal the fears and desires which assail us while lying in bed at night. This primordial feeling of awe and alarm crops up again in films where the artists, dressed up as a giant rat and bear, roam through the streets of Los Angeles and the mountains of Switzerland, perfect philosophers as seen by Walt Disney.

Palazzo Litta, which houses a contemporary art exhibition for the first time in its history, is one of the most sumptuous private aristocratic residences in the city. It was designed by architect Francesco Maria Richini in the first half of the 17th century for Bartolomeo Arese, and built in the very center of historic Milan, around two courtyards and with a garden that originally stretched all the way to Castello Sforzesco. Its gilded, frescoed rooms, still preserving all their original stuccos and some of their original furniture, were at the center of elite social life in the city from the 17th century on; over the centuries, its magnificent ballroom and hall of mirrors housed unforgettable receptions and regal celebrations in honor of guests such as Napoleon and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The palazzo came through the bombings of World War II intact, and after almost a century in the hands of the Italian railway, it is now government property and has been under the protection of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage since 2007. After remaining closed for many years, Palazzo Litta has come back to life, and for the first time, with this exhibition organized by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, it opens its doors to the energy of contemporary art.

Peter Fischli and David Weiss* were born in Zurich, the former in 1952, and the latter in 1946. They both still live and work in the city of their birth, and have been collaborating since 1979. In over 30 years of activity, they have had solo exhibitions in museums and cultural institutions around the world, including Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (2009), Kunsthaus Zürich (2007), Museé d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2007), Tate Modern in London (2006), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2003), Museum Ludwig in Cologne (2002), MACBA – Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2000), the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art (1997), the Serpentine Gallery in London (1996), and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1987). The two artists contributed to the realization of the Swiss pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville, and have been featured in many group shows in venues such as Punta della Dogana in Venice (2009), Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2008), the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2003), Centre Pompidou in Paris (1992), and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1996). They represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale’s 46th International Art Exhibition (1995), won a Golden Lion award at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and have taken part in leading contemporary art festivals such as the 55th Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (2008–2009), the Yokohama Triennale (2008), the 11th Biennale of Sydney (1998), Documenta in Kassel (in 1997 and 1987), and Skulptur Projekte in Münster (in 1997 and 1987).

 

* David Weiss died in Zurich on April 27, 2012.