Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

5/08/2013

Urs Fischer: A kid's dream, a guard's nightmare

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Urs Fischer has upended the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles. The first survey of his work in the United States, the show brings together a few favorites, which combine ghoulish and glam in one strange brew.

Every piece Fischer includes in the show is designed to make one take a second look. The show, which encompasses 38,500 square feet of the museum's two locations downtown. Right at the entrance of its Grand Avenue location, Fischer puts a gaping wall that allows visitors to see through to the other side, where skeletons in various states of distress play. "That looks like what I feel in the mornings," remarks the party-hearty person beside me. One look at the skeletal figure sprawled on the sofa and I have a fair inkling of how much fun my erstwhile companion indulges in every day.

"Portrait of a Single Raindrop" allows visitors to peek through holes on the walls of the museum.
"Undigested Sunset" feels like the morning after some serious partying.
But perhaps the biggest question on the mind of visitors the day I came was this: how will the museum guards handle the exhibition, especially when throngs of kids come through?

It's not the usual concern that would come up, but with nary a rope or glass box in sight, and with a plethora of ghoulish creations on view, children would be hard-pressed to control themselves. Museum guards, I imagine, would have a devil of a time keeping a modicum of control.

As I walked through Fischer's imitation rainfall installation, "Horses Dream of Horses," I could just picture children running and entangling themselves on the hardly visible nylon string. Then there is the bread house, which visitors can enter at will. How much of that would be left once the exhibition is done?

"Horses Dream of Horses" was a beautiful but worrisome piece held up by nylon string
"Untitled (Bread House)" is a temptation for children of all ages.
The question is only amplified as I enter the Little Tokyo location, where the artist worked with 1,500 volunteers molding a wonderland of clay, which surround a 20-foot copy of Giambologna's sculpture, "The Rape of the Sabine Women." There was no clear path in the Geffen Contemporary. Visitors weaved in and out as they pleased.



"This is like finding a long-lost civilization." I overheard another visitor say and it wouldn't be too far off. Within the clay molds, a diversity of voices emerged, from the playful to the earnest. I was surprised I did not see more names carved into piece of a clay, a veritable "I was here" opportunity that not took advantage of.

The Geffen Contemporary was turned into a maze of clay, each hardly guarded by the museum. I can't blame them. It would be impossible to keep your eye out for every warm body that moved through the gigantic space.

"We're just trying to get through the this," says one of the guards good-naturedly. A few minutes speaking to them made it clear they knew what the challenges were, but accepted it anyway. They did not seem resigned, but perhaps challenged or amused by the prospect of children run amok in the museum.

If anything, Fischer's retrospective was an exercise is fun and imagination tinged with dark mischief. It is a place where Hansel and Gretels of the world would delight, even though they were in danger of losing themselves in the forest or falling into the clutches of a wicked witch. The guards have my sympathy.

All photos by Carren Jao. Urs Fischer runs at the MOCA until August 19.

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