Peter Fischli David Weiss​: Exhibition Overview

♪ [Nancy Spector]: The exhibition is called Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better. And that title is derived from a mural permanently installed on a wall in Zürich. They, as artists/workers/slackers, really play with that notion of how to be creative, how to be productive, how to be meaningful. [Nat Trotman]: Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better opens in a roughly chronological order. But, as you move up through the ramps, it quickly departs from any sense of chronology, opting instead to create pairings of bodies of work from different moments in Fischli and Weiss’s career. [Nancy Spector]: This will be the first comprehensive overview of their work, their collaboration–which lasted 33 years, beginning in 1979 to 2012–in an American museum, and, in fact, in a New York museum, which is quite exciting. [Nat Trotman]: Fischli and Weiss started collaborating in 1979 with a group of photographs that they called Sausage Series. And this series really generated the key terms that would run throughout their entire career: their trademark wit and humor; their use of unexpected materials; the idea of accumulating a series, working in series; and their interest in popular culture. In this process, they reframed these events that we see happen all the time, as part of everyday life. [Nancy Spector]: Fischli and Weiss have always been conscious of the notion of dualities. And they really set out to undo that very notion, and play with this tension between what we perceive to be opposites. And, in fact, they have a series within a series they call Popular Opposites. And it is certainly present in the book Order and Cleanliness, where they create diagrams that somehow, allegedly, but actually quite comically, map the universe according to these perceived opposites. [Nat Trotman]: One thing that distinguishes the exhibition is the prominent place that it gives the moving image in Fischli and Weiss’s work. The artists worked in many mediums during the course of their career–in photography, sculpture. They made books; they did drawings; they made public art. But they repeatedly came back to the ideas of film and video and slide installations. Fischli and Weiss’s alter egos, Rat and Bear, make their first appearance in their film The Least Resistance, which they finished in 1981. And throughout their career, these characters serve as stand-ins for the artists that allow them to both mask themselves, so that their work becomes less about the creations of Fischli and Weiss themselves than about the creations of these characters, and also to explore, again, the idea of popular opposites. So, by staging these two characters as equally sized partners in a series of misadventures, Fischli and Weiss start to get at some of the humorous way that they can subvert our expectations about reality. [Nancy Spector]: Fischli and Weiss operate in an interrogative mode. Many of the works are framed around the idea of asking questions. So, there’s the Question Pot, which is part of the Grey Sculptures. And it is a vessel made out of polyurethane in which a viewer can peer into. And there are questions that literally circle around the interior, written in German. And like the early questions from Rat and Bear in The Least Resistance, they are both big and little questions. So, questions that deal with the most banal issues, to the most cosmic. [Nat Trotman]: Because of the dialogic way that Fischli and Weiss worked, having these ongoing conversations in their practice, many of their works take the form of accumulations or archives of smaller parts. Fischli and Weiss first explored this way of working in their series Suddenly This Overview, which they began in 1981. And the idea for this body of work was to create a sort of subjective encyclopedia of all of human knowledge and history using hand-molded, small clay figurines, each one of which would be a small scene that ranged from a scene of someone waiting for the elevator, or shopping in the supermarket. So, like, the most banal, everyday activities, to historic events like Mick Jagger and Brian Jones walking home satisfied after having composed “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” or the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. [Nancy Spector]: Fischli and Weiss use deadpan humor, non-ironic humor, as a way to comment on how we perceive the everyday, of things we take for granted, for instance. The amateur photograph, the snapshot of our travels, and things that we don’t tend to value, they elevate, and give it a place in terms of a hierarchy in high art. And they also render it very, very beautiful. And I think that what they embraced was a kind of normalcy, in a way, very self-consciously. Almost a performance of normalcy. So what you have in their work are postcard views, and airport views, and 96 hours of video of just people going about their daily lives. They’re going to show us back our world, but with great poignancy and great appreciation. [Nat Trotman]: We go through life taking for granted certain things around us, and really ignoring, filtering out a lot of the content of our everyday life. And Fischli and Weiss’s work draws things out of that background, and brings it to the front, through these little twists of presentation that attempt to restore a sense of wonder with the everyday.

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