Peter Fischli e 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).
Produced by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Altri fiori e altre domande is the first major exhibition in Italy by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The exhibition is a unique occasion to enter the surreal worlds invented by these Swiss artists.
Specifically conceived for the seventeenth century rooms of Palazzo Litta, the exhibition – like the complete oeuvre of Fischli & Weiss – blurs the border between the normal and the exceptional.
Among the brocade tapestries, fragile chinoiserie and baroque mirrors of Palazzo Litta, which thanks to the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi opens its doors to contemporary art for the first time, Altri fiori e altre domande collects new works and a selection of more than forty historical pieces by Fischli and Weiss, offering a compelling view of their nearly thirty year long career. Fischli and Weiss’ mysterious objects and miniature crises turn the building into an absurd dollhouse.
Fischli and Weiss have been working together since 1979, and have since imposed themselves as the prophets of an art of childish amazement, ferocious skepticism and primal stupor. In their photos, sculptures, films and installations, the Swiss duo casts an enchanted look upon the world, revealing its banal beauty and astonishing dullness.
In the first room of the exhibition Fischli and Weiss’ works are camouflaged behind the original décor. The photographs in the series AIRPORTS (1987-ongoing) are coupled with old furniture as in a hotel lobby.
Fischli and Weiss betray an obsession for cataloguing reality according to unusual principles that can transform the most insignificant material into a magical substance, as in the hypnotic images of FLOWERS (1997-98). Cast in rubber and perfectly monochromatic, the BLACK SCULPTURES (1986-88) deprive reality of any weight, reducing it to pure hallucination. A kind of mirage is conjured in KANALVIDEO (1992), which appears as a descent to the depths of our unconscious, but is in fact nothing more than a film of the Zürich sewer system.
The imperceptible distance between reality and fiction is one of the central themes in Fischli and Weiss’ work. In one of their most famous series, the artists meticulously reproduced a myriad of objects by sculpting them in polyurethane, an extremely light and delicate material, which captures all of life’s fragility. UNTITLED (PALLETS) (2001-04) opens the door to what normally remains hidden in an art show: realized with maniacal precision, Fischli and Weiss’ common objects are carefully staged to suggest a state of permanent disorder, as though the viewers were for once allowed to take a peek behind the curtains of an exhibition. THE RAFT (1982) – the piece that inaugurated Fischli and Weiss’ fascination with polyurethane – is an unusual anthology of cartoon characters and infantile still lives that seem to have emerged from a fairy tale abyss.
In the astounding, hyper-realistic UNTITLED (ROTTERDAM) (2000-04), one of the final rooms of Altri fiori e altre domande is turned into a janitor’s closet in which each object has been perfectly sculpted and painted by hand.
Fischli and Weiss look at the world as if it were a daydream, one that is often shaded with dark, dramatic nuances. The installation QUESTIONS (1980-2003) is pervaded by existential doubts and anxious uncertainties, fears and dreams we all experience at night before falling asleep – but are they cheap philosophical thoughts or esoteric epiphanies? In their legendary film THE WAY THINGS GO (1986-87) everyday objects come alive and chase each other in an exhilarating sequence of chain reactions, a domino effect in which chaos and order endlessly vie for supremacy. This primordial feeling of alarm and astonishment returns in the film THE RIGHT WAY (1983), in which the artists explore the Swiss mountains dressed as a giant rat and a bear, contemplating the world as strange Walt Disney characters with intellectual ambitions. Preserved under glass, the costumes in the room appear as perfect as minimal sculptures and as pompous as some effigy in an old wax museum.
In all its playful complexity, the work of Fischli and Weiss is animated by small miracles and moments of do-it-yourself happiness. The exhibition in Palazzo Litta can, in fact, be described as a labyrinth of possible worlds, a trip through micro-universes and lilliputian landscapes: AN UNSETTLED WORK (2000-06) is a journey around the world through hundreds of images that fade one into the other, blurring scales and perspectives, and revealing the dark side of the everyday. Cataloguing rules and exceptions, the artists’ work flows like a wild encyclopaedia, an explosion of forms and colours, illuminations and obscurities. In the series THE SAUSAGE PHOTOGRAPHS (1979), which mark the beginning of Fischli and Weiss’ collaboration, romantic landscapes made of sausages appear inside the refrigerator or on the sitting room floor, revealing a beauty that mixes the sublime and the kitschy. In the series EQUILIBRES – QUIET AFTERNOON (1984) carefully balanced objects challenge the laws of gravity and give birth to new, hybrid creatures. In Fischli and Weiss’ photographs even boredom becomes spectacular, as banality is declined in infinite variations of marvellous multiplicity.
Even the history of humanity can be processed through the kaleidoscopic gaze of Fischli and Weiss. In the ambitious series SUDDENLY THIS OVERVIEW (1981), the Swiss duo tells a bizarre story of the world through a sequence of more than ninety small clay sculptures which are here presented in Italy for the first time. Somewhere between comical sketches and philosophical illuminations from a miniature world, Fischli and Weiss’ sculptures are a collection of hilarious episodes and marginal events that re-write history from a minor perspective.
In the final rooms of the exhibition, a giant cat sips milk from a dish while the sounds of a radio hovers in the air. As in many other Fischli and Weiss’ works RADIO (2008) hides a mysterious surprise: it broadcasts straight from the past, summoning songs and news bulletins from a few months ago.
The exhibition Altri fiori e altre domande brings to Milan the hallucinatory visions of Fischli and Weiss in a unique combination of new and historical works that become all the more visionary in the baroque rooms of Palazzo Litta.
* David Weiss died in Zurich on April 27, 2012.