Urs Fischer’s show at Sadie Cole’s Soho gallery is without a doubt visually attractive. It centres on an installation of 3,000 plaster raindrops suspended throughout the gallery. Titled Melodrama, the raindrops encompass a spectrum of shades from green to lilac, massing together into a gently psychedelic storm cloud which weaves in a swirling movement through the space. Yet their forms are incongruously physical – each droplet is a bulbous pendant cast from a hand-modelled prototype, and hangs from the ceiling by lengths of near-invisible monofilament.
About this show, Paul Yeung with Time Out London says that ‘There’s a density to this piece, but somehow a lightness too; as if air molecules had become visible. A bizarre feeling emerges – am I underwater or on the ground? Am I wet or dry?’. Dense and light at the same time, ugh? I don’t think so, I think this show works at two levels: the material one and the chromatic one. There is no lightness here and the rain drops do not look like rain drops at all but as re used left overs from one of those ‘cake shaped’ phallic Yayoi Kusama ‘sculptures’ that Victoria Miro is actually selling like…well…cakes, round the corner from Sadie Coles.
The show is composed by a group of clay sofas and reclining torsos arranged as allusion to the Venus and the Mirror or the Hermaphrodite Borghese, to give just two examples that the artist may not even know, but without any sophistication of shape of form. I am saying that the artist might even ignore the source to which he is alluding because when the Hermaphrodite was unearthed at the Villa Borghese in 1600, Gianlorenzo Bernini was commissioned with the sculpture of his/her mattress which soon became one of the main attractions of that master piece. With Fischer there is no time for such sophistications so the bed is made of heavy and shapeless chunks of clay arranged as flat tectonics plates one on top of the other which seem to hold on top of them, a decapitated female body. Although that decapitation functions as an index of another sort of allusion which is closer to surrealism and the art of the avant guard, the truth is that this is just a pose.
Maybe this is the reason why the gallery’s (Sadie Coles’) press release comes illustrated by the artist playing and joking on top of one of the clay chaise longs. So to summarise, we have five or six decapitaded mannequins made of clay on top of very basic chaise longs, also made of clay, on one side, and on the other side a rain of chunky pink and fluo drops carefully hung on top. I believe that this show deploys the media of installation and sculpture so insufficiently that there is no other choice than putting them to play against each other hoping that the viewer would not deconstruct the experience and decides to just go with the flow of the ‘entertainment’ experience.
The problem is that an installation is pure because it is constantly referring to the conditions of sculpture as a media so this show mainly works as a series of sculptures drawing attention to themselves as (bad) sculptures. To illustrate this, let’s read the way the gallery indicates how the is supposed to behave in front of them: ‘Fischer skews our sense of scale – viewers become Lilliputians within the sea of oversize drops – while simultaneously he effaces basic distinctions between outside and inside, architecture and landscape. We are required to pass through narrow channels, to the extent that it is perhaps impossible to perceive the work in its totality. The raindrops therefore dramatise – and radically extend – Charles Baudelaire’s idea that sculpture has “a hundred different points of view”, presenting a limitless number of facets and avenues’. How did Baudelaire got here truly shocks me but the first impression is that both gallery and artist are interested in conditioning the visitor physical movement but isn’t that what sculpture is all about? To quote Baudelaire in order to tell me that a sculpture should be experienced ‘in the round’ depending on the ‘conditionings’ of place and installation is a truism. The problem with that ‘truism’ is that in this show is presented as the main theme of the show. At this point, the show disintegrates in front of the viewer’s very eyes.
Having said that, I saw the Cuban collective group Los Carpinteros doing a very similar thing with rain drops and any clay Rebecca Warren sculpture would put these concoctions to shame. The art critic with Time Out seems, as usual, shocked by what he cannot explain or understand so he feels compelled to turn the aporia into an existencial moment of wisdom by saying: ‘So what’s the melodrama that Fischer is referring to? The art world? Humanity? Perhaps he’s saying that sometimes we just need to lie down, and realise how ridiculous – and extraordinary – life can be’. I guess this is the problem with installations in the art world, they start as mere illustrations of a joke and very soon claim the status of paradoxical existentialism. Just a thought.
At Said Coles HQ Soho
62 Kingly St London W1
Until January 6th