Can Commodities Really Critique Commodity Culture?

LOS ANGELES — For an exhibition titled Chaosand apparently about the cacophony of human-made things in the world, Urs Fischer’s exhibition is surprisingly restrained. Presented by Gagosian at the former Marciano Art Foundation, the show begins with a selection of objects on Lightbox tables, mostly old Salvation Army-type items, some vaguely representing different moments in time and different places (eg, a map of Europe is next to a mini Canadian flag), but all seemingly the amassed junk of 20th-century first-world capitalism.

The tables, along with a short video on Fischer’s process, are just the prelude; the centerpiece is 500 short videos (referred to as “digital sculptures”) from the series CHAOS #1–#501projected on three large screens, of two scanned objects intersecting and converging into one another, accompanied by live piano improvisation by Pete Drungle.

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

According to the press release, the videos are intended “to generate an uncanny, unsettling ‘collision of things.’” Nothing I saw in the hour or so that I spent at the show was particularly uncanny or unsettling. Most pairings were based on contrasting types (eg, a Chinese vase and a camouflage puffer jacket), textures (eg, a glow stick and a chocolate bar; a fish and an x-ray), or, possibly, presumed socioeconomic classes (eg, a candelabra and a K -Mart baseball cap). The most engaging video was a dance between a hammer and nail that anthropomorphized the two enough to generate a sense of pathos. All else came across as either forced incongruity (eg, a “Ken” doll in its packaging and a copy of Marx’s Capital) or more or less random juxtaposition.

Fischer has created playful, unexpected works in the past — for instance, a self-portrait sculpture in wax that melts down over time (“Untitled,” 2011) or fanciful installations of oversized hanging raindrops. Neither example makes a profound statement, but they speak to his wit. In both cases, their success is contingent on the physical presence of the objects (in the latter, the immersive effect), and the artist mining his imagination. Between the gathered thrift-store stuff, on tables and floating in the space of the videos, Chaos is light on both of these elements.

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

One art historical reference — Duchamp’s seminal “Bicycle Wheel” deconstructed, its parts floating — may be an attempt to contextualize the videos in art history, but it ultimately underscores Duchamp’s radicality, and that the readymade has been done to death since the original “Bicycle Wheel” Wheel” in 1913. If Fischer intended to make a point about art and consumerism, repurposing Duchamp in a gallery show doesn’t cut it.

Fischer doesn’t really need to have a point, though. It’s easy to forget in the Marciano Art Foundation, housed in a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple building, that Chaos is a commercial gallery show. Perhaps the commodity status of the videos themselves is a meta commentary on consumer culture run amok (though merging two objects is hardly running amok), and maybe that’s raison d’être enough. The press release also notes that Fischer partnered with MakersPlace to create a series of NFTs. But given the opportunity to say something worthwhile — about capitalism, its attendant environmental destruction, or the even definition of the self through objects — rather than saying nothing, why not do it?

Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Installation view of Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

Urs Fischer: Chaos #1–#500 continues at Gagosian at the Marciano Art Foundation (4357 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California) through October 29. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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Jorge Oliveira

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