04/25/2013 11:41 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2013

Urs Fisher Art Exhibit at MOCA and Geffen Is Astonishing


The real purpose of a museum is to stimulate the imagination and inflame the senses of the viewer, making him or her enlarge their viewpoint of the world and thus understand it better. Which is why I think that MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and its Geffen Contemporary offshoot, are really fulfilling their missions under the direction of a natty fellow named Jeffrey Deitch. When he came here a few years ago after a long, successful career as a gallery owner in New York, he was attacked seemingly without reason by the entrenched art interests of a few board members and their friends on the local paper. As a casual outsider, I have visited the museums to see the various exciting exhibitions he has shepherded... the Dennis Hopper one, Weegee, the artist's museum, the Graffiti exhibit, and now the current Urs Fischer show. This new exhibit, which covers almost all of the terrain of both museums, is probably the most exciting, unique art exhibition I have EVER seen in some six decades of museum-going all over the world. It is the first comprehensive museum retrospective of works by Fischer, the burly, tattooed internationally-acclaimed Swiss-born artist.

urs fischer

Urs Fischer at the MOCA opening

I read that museums all over the world had wanted this exhibit, and at the press preview asked Deitch how he had managed to garner it. "Urs and I have been friends for more than a decade, he knew my gallery in New York, and we here at MOCA were just more determined and aggressive than others," he replied. No mean achievement, this! My reading has unearthed that Urs, born in 1973, is considered one of today's most important contemporary artists, and after viewing this enormous show, I can understand why. This fellow uses a range of media (does he ever!) to express the transience of art and the human condition. (Learning of my food background and seeing a copy of my celebrated restaurant newsletter, Fischer invited me to join some friends for a meal, which he cooked in front of the Geffen that afternoon. One of the best meals I've had in months, it was juicy, fatty beef brisket, falling-off-the-bone tender -- drizzled with what he called 'Greek dressing,' lemon, wine and olive oil, served with tiny roast potatoes and three salads. My grandma's brisket couldn't hold a candle to his.)

moca director jeffrey deitch

MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch

jessica morgan from Tate Modern

Jessica Morgan from the Tate Modern, London, curated the exhibition.

I had a chance to talk to a charming woman named Jessica Morgan, who was introduced to me by Jeffrey as the curator, International Art, at the respected Tate Modern in London, who is the curator of this exhibit. She told me it covers some 65,000 square feet at the Grand Avenue venue and Geffen Contemporary several blocks away. "It will run until August 19," she said, and then... but I will explain the unusual ending further on. She told me that this exhibit displays Fischer's work for the past decade, bringing together for the first time his many iconic works, from leading international art collections as well as recent productions emanating from his Red Hook, Brooklyn studio.

raindrops falling on my!

Raindrops are fallin on my head... or so it seems


swiss chalet of..bread?

A Swiss chalet made of... bread.

jimmy stewart

Painting of Jimmy Stewart covered by a banana, on aluminum.

veronica lake

...and Veronica Lake covered by an orange.

heroic figu

There are heroic figures also.

After seeing this mind-blowing show, I came away thinking that it showcased his propensity to bridge the banal (yes, that's the right word) and the fantastical (also the right word). Each museum location has a different character utilizing the unique character of the space... the MOCA Grand sees him weaving together for us the storyline of his work...skeletons meeting movie stars, toys greeting grave-like holes, giant falling raindrops, and by the time you walk through it your sense of distance from the art has been destroyed. Utterly. (And I shook my head at the thought of what it will take to rebuild the walls and spaces, which have been 'altered' for the show.) There is a famous story of Urs' showing in 2007 at Gavin Brown's 'Enterprise,' where he excavated the gallery's main room, bringing in contractors to dig an 8-foot hole where the floor had been, and calling the result, "You." (And he dug holes into the walls of the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Flouting rules seems to come with the territory.)

Man with candle in head

Man with a candle atop his head.. so realistic I spoke to him.

The Last Supper

"The Last Supper" in clay at the Geffen.

The Thinker

...and a clay "Thinker" modeled after Rodin's work.

Someone I respect whispered to me, "This is morbid glamour... sex, the macabre, and the violent effects of collage. This is a fairytale landscape... populated with giant teddy bears, houses made of bread, and lots of melting objects. In this artist's imagination, everything is possible." I saw so much that was unexpected, diverse, mad and exciting. Sculptures large and small, paintings with an altered perspective, some digitally photo-realistic and some... just bizarre. But all worthy of attention.


Untitled work outside the gallery.


...and a broom and ballon inside the gallery.

clay works

Clay works at the Geffen. The clay will be recycled after the show.


Through the looking glass... or the wall of the gallery.

moca patio

MOCA patio work.

fancy meeting you here

Fancy meeting you here... a lounging skeleton.

The Geffen Contemporary display is a whole other world, one which I have never encountered before. It is a vast collaborative project contributed to by 1,500 individuals invited to come and work in clay in the six weeks or so preceding the exhibition's opening, Some 150,000 pounds of clay were shipped in... and all of these people -- men, women and children -- were asked to join with Urs and his staff in making figures, abstractions, and fantastic objects out of this clay.

Weird figures, animals (lots of crocodiles), people... all are interspersed with Fischer's own work. There are some massive wax sculptures, which will melt slowly through the controlled burning of wicks inserted in them. A clay city, which will eventually crumble... this Geffen show will end in mid-August, with the tons of clay being recycled to schools throughout the area! (Just add water and the clay becomes malleable again.) I asked Jeffrey why some of these incredible works had to be put down, and he said that is what the artist wanted. Near the entrance is a long clay display of Christ and his Disciples at the Last Supper table... amazing.

There are several publications and catalogues, which I eagerly purchased for later perusal and passing-along. The exhibition was made possible by the Eli and Edythe Broad Founation, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, his rep Larry Gagosian, and my friend Peter Morton (Peter, the Hard Rock restaurant guy, how appropriate, another rebel in the woodshed). MOCA has produced a series of videos abut the realization of the exhibition and Urs' vision for the show... go to

As I said at the start of this review, a museum's main purpose is to enflame and enlarge the imagination of the viewer. Yes, Mr. Deitch, your exhibition has certainly done that in spades... and I am much appreciative of what it took to do so. Go once, and you will leave thinking of how soon you can return... and bring some unsuspecting friends... just to see the look on their faces when the Urs spectacle unfolds before them.

MOCA Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and closed on Monday. General admission is $12 for adults; $6 for students and seniors, and free for MOCA members, children under 12 ,and everyone on Thursday from 5 pm to 8 pm courtesy of Wells Fargo.

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