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Art and Death in Connecticut: Urs Fischer at The Brant Foundation Art Study Center

07/19/2010 01:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The other day I went up to Greenwich, Connecticut to see the Urs Fischer show at The Brant Foundation Art Study Center. I had missed his exhibition at the New Museum but liked the photos of it, so I was excited to see some work in person.

Location, location, location...in this case, of the exhibition, Oscar the Grouch, is key to understanding the two installations Fisher has created for the space. The Brant Center is a renovated and expanded barn, next to the polo field on Peter Brant's estate in Greenwich. Brant collects Fischer's work and the two have become friends so the former invited the latter to create a site-specific installation at the Center. Fischer, having spent considerable time with Brant, created an exhibition about the Art Study Center, collecting art, and Brant himself.

The exhibition begins with two mirrored boxes, one screened with a diet coke and one with an onion, two things Peter Brant likes (I found that out later). In this room and elsewhere in the exhibition are large screen prints on canvas of scenes from old Hollywood B movies overlaid with enlarged nails. Honestly, I loved the show but these seemed out of place, sort of stuck on to the exhibition as afterthoughts. A seemingly fresh grave greeted me upon entering the first room, Hole, which was first shown at Sadie Coles in London. Its depth penetrates and hangs below the floor of the gallery. Walking around this yawning maw, I was dwarfed by three of dust mote paintings. They are huge screen prints on aluminum of enlarged dust motes.

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Untitled (hole), 2007, cast aluminum; Untitled, 2007, dust paintings, screen print on aluminum

Around the corner, a balcony looks down into a dirt bowl, created by excavating the floor of the barn. This is a re-creation of You, first shown at Gavin Brown in New York. The grand, destructive gesture of digging up the gallery floor begged for my shock and awe but all I could think was that I've seen this before. Later I found that Chris Burden did the same thing in 1986 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A beautiful piece nonetheless, it grounded me in the actual space of the building (especially after I had walked down into it), while the hole in the ground mirrored the grave, the first of several poetic and optically weird doublings.

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You, 2007, excavation residue

A narrow hall off the side of the excavation leads to 1:4 scale exact model of the The Brant Foundation Art Center itself. Because I could walk around inside this model and because of its accuracy, it didn't feel small as much as I felt huge. It felt very Alice-in-Wonderland. In fact, throughout the entire show, Fischer manipulates scale in such a way that the viewer is constantly pushed and pulled, stretched and shrunk.

In the lower galleries, Fischer needed very specific gallery dimensions, so they have a movie set quality in that you can walk around the fake walls or enter the "set". Two of the sets are recreations of rooms in the nearby Brant residence, the "Art Deco Room" and the library, shown here at about 90% of their original size. The wallpaper "pattern" is ceiling to floor photographs of the actual rooms' wall, hung with a portion of the Brant art collection. Jeff Koons' Lobster particularly stood out in the first room. Though the rooms feel full and real because of the detail of the wallpaper, they are inhabited only by two candle figures of Peter Brant himself, slightly larger than life. In wax, he looks strikingly like JFK, so it was arresting to see the back of his head melted away by the lit candle. Additionally, in the library, protruding from the ceiling is the underside of the grave on the first floor. And that's where it became interesting for me because I started thinking about the relationship between death and art collecting. No matter how much art a collector owns he can't fend off decaying effects of age nor the specter of death hanging over him. Sound heavy-handed? It's not in person. It really works.

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Abstract Slavery, 2008, wallpaper; Untitled (hole), 2007, lower level view; Untitled (Standing), 2010, parafin wax mixture, pigment, steel, wick

And then in walks Peter Brant himself, life-size or maybe a little larger than. He stopped by to chat with the group I was with. So here we were on the real Brant estate, in a simulacrum of the Brant library, looking at a wax candle Peter Brant, next to a real Peter Brant. Do you see what I mean by weird doublings?

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Untitled (Seated), 2010, parafin wax mixture, pigment, steel, wick; Abstract Slavery, 2008, wallpaper

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Liz Markus, The Man, 2010, courtesy ZieherSmith gallery