The painter and sculptor Urs Fischer (Zurich, 1973) has been developing an original stance toward the status of sculpture and installation over the past several years. Although he uses a wide variety of materials, Fischer’s defining quality in this area is his creation of a discrepancy between the visual perception of the sculpted object and its true nature. For instance, works that appear to be hand-sculpted from adobe are actually cast in bronze, then painted grey... unless they are, in fact, made of adobe. The series containing François/ René (2013) explores this sense of discrepancy with quasi-industrial media. Very high-resolution photographs of everyday consumer objects, taken from five different angles, are glued to boxes made of mirrors. The illusion of having real objects floating in space is heightened by the lack of joints between the sides of the cube. As the title suggests, the sculpture is made of two parts – objects which would not, theoretically, be connected to each other in any way (a bottle of soy sauce and a camera), to which Fischer has attached names that seem just as familiar to us as the objects themselves.
The work of Dahn Vo (1975) also returns to consumer goods, in this case a simple cardboard box that once contained Evian water bottles. The artist collected a number of similar packages (cases of beer or water) which he carefully folded and sent to Thailand, where artisans meticulously covered the inscriptions and logo on the different sides of the box with gold leaf before sending them back to the artist. The discarded object was thus given new life in the form of a work reintroduced into economic circulation via the art market – a significant promotion compared to its prior existence, which is reminiscent of the ideas of karma and reincarnation that are precious in Buddhist tradition.
Like Urs Fischer, Franz West (1947-2012) has always played with the contrast between the sculpture’s outer appearance and the way in which we enter into physical contact with it. The artist pushes this reasoning to include the spectator in the process, at first developing works meant to be touched, manipulated, or moved. The famous chairs and sofas covered in coloured paper that were exhibited at Documenta in 1992 later gave rise to “utilitarian” sculptures, which could be sat on. The series Qwertz, installed in Rotterdam, transposes this process into a public space. According to West, its title has no particular meaning (it is the first letters of the old German typewriters), unlike Lindwurm (2000), which is the name for a “biped, wingless” dragon. Its name confers a particular status on this sculpture, rather rare in West’s production, which anchors it in the folklore and fantastic mythology of Central Europe. Its appearance is reminiscent of a low-cost artisanal manufacturing process – paper mache or plaster – while it is actually made of painted aluminium, a material whose shaping requires a highly complex production line.
In the work of Sterling Ruby (1972), the first impression is also one of great spontaneity and the use of a craft-like method. What is immediately striking in his imposing piece Headcleaner/ Headhunter (2009) is the contrast between the flashiness of the gilded bronze and the rough, multicoloured welds joining the different elements. The organic form evokes the neural connections in a cortex that has been eaten away from the inside. Ruby created a smaller variation on this sculpture, made of ceramic – one of his favourite materials – entitled Brass Ketamine User (2010), in other words, literally what happens to the brain of a ketamine user.
In the early 2000s, gilded bronze became one of the favourite materials of Sherrie Levine (1947), until then known more for her diverting reappropriations of works by famous contemporary artists. False God (2007) belongs to a series of sculptures created based on strange objects, mostly found at flea markets or in antique stores. The work originated from a mould of the skeleton of a two-headed calf, an animal destined to an early death for whom Levine erected a sort of eternal monument. The title explicitly recalls the episode of the adoration of the golden calf in Exodus, which symbolizes idolatry. False God fits into the scope of Levine’s previous work, reappropriating famous works to interrogate the value of art objects and the cult surrounding market players.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) experimented in sculpture with an impressive number of materials throughout her lifetime. Bronze occupied a significant, if not dominant, place among these materials. The representation of fragments or parts of the human body sometimes gave rise to variations on a particular theme, such as that of the ear, which we find in both her sculpted works and her drawings. Inner Ear (1962) is a historic piece. Although cast in bronze, it gives off an impression of fragility that is reinforced by the patina, which gives it the appearance of a malleable lead object.