Jet Set Lady
Istituto dei Ciechi, Milan
May 3 – June 1, 2005
Through his sculptures and installations, Urs Fischer has built an infinite anthology of mutations and upheavals, describing an imaginary world whose constant metamorphoses take unexpected twists, at times escaping the control of the artist himself.
Like a magician, he tames a wide range of everyday materials such as wood, metal, wax, Styrofoam, glue and plastic; or even fruits and vegetables. From his wax women—constantly evolving sculptures that melt during the exhibition—to his spectacular enlargement of a storm, all of Urs Fischer’s installations are endless production processes, still lifes swarming with energy.
For Fischer’s first solo exhibition in Italy, the artist presents Jet Set Lady, a spectacular sculpture conceived for the concert hall of the Istituto dei Ciechi (Institute for the Blind). Officially inaugurated by King Umberto I in 1892, the building had never before housed a contemporary art exhibition. Fischer’s piece, which lends its title to the entire show, is a gigantic iron tree over eight meters high, a six-ton tangle of branches covered in over two thousand colored drawings that reproduce the artist’s prints and paintings, as if to construct a map of his mind.
Jet Set Lady is a sculpture in continuous movement: it leans, as if swayed by an uncontrollable force, and appears multiplied as if seen through the splintered lens of a kaleidoscope. Alongside the tree is the sculpture Untitled (2000), one of the artist’s simplest and most disarming pieces: half a pear and half an apple, joined together by two screws, hang from the ceiling in mid-air, creating a surreal hybrid that combines apparently irreconcilable species and shapes.
In the adjoining space of the institute’s deconsecrated church, Fischer presents House of Bread (2004), a life-size house built entirely from bricks of bread, baguette doors and windows, and ciabatta beams. Like something drawn by the colored felt pens of an imaginative child, the bread house is half fairy-tale vision, half simple, archaic architecture. But House of Bread is also a sculpture with an unstable destiny, an object in constant transformation, which dries, crumbles, and is devoured by the dozens of multicolored parrots that inhabit the exhibition space, turning the whole show into a pulsating, live organism.
The Istituto dei Ciechi was founded in Milan in 1840 to house blind youth, offer them an education, and train them for work; in 1864 it became the first institution in Italy to adopt the Braille alphabet. The current location, to which it moved in 1892, is modeled after the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, though adapted to the architectural and stylistic context of late 19th-century Milan. The decoration of its concert hall and church was entrusted to Celso Stacchetti and Ferdinando Brambilla, two well-known artists of the era. The paintings in the hall include portraits of Valentin Hauy, founder of the institute for blind youth in Paris, of Louis Braille, inventor of the alphabet named after him, and many medallions showing musicians—such as Bach, Mozart, Rossini, and Bellini—as well as portraits of the two finest students of the Milanese institute. In 1926, it was declared a scholastic institution and placed under the supervision of the Italian government’s Ministry of Public Education.
Urs Fischer was born in Zurich in 1973, and lives and works in New York. He has been exhibiting for many years, with solo shows in international institutions such as the New Museum in New York (2009), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2006), Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2005), the Camden Arts Center in London (2005), Centre Pompidou in Paris (2004), Kunsthaus Zürich (2004) and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (2000). He has taken part in group exhibitions at Palazzo Grassi in Venice (2009), Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich (2008), Malmö Konsthall (2008), the New Museum in New York (2007), Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2007), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2006) and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (2006). His work has also been shown at many international festivals, including the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2006), the Venice Biennale’s 50th International Art Exhibition (2003), Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana (2000) and “Monument To Now” at the Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art in Athens (2004). In 2007, along with Ugo Rondinone, he represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale’s 52nd International Art Exhibition.