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Urs Fischer presents more than 30 works installed throughout the Legion of Honor
Installation view of "Urs Fischer: The Public & the Private" at the Legion of Honor Image Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- This April, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present, Urs Fischer: The Public & the Private. The exhibition is the first under a new contemporary art initiative, which presents the work of living artists in dialogue with the unique histories and identities of the sites, buildings, and collections of the de Young and Legion of Honor. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) death, Urs Fischer (Swiss, b.1973) has been invited to bring a contemporary perspective to our understanding and appreciation of the Museums’ permanent collection, specifically the acclaimed collection of Rodin sculptures.

“In the 100 year history of the Legion of Honor, this is the first exhibition to bring works by a contemporary artist into dialogue with a wide range of the Museum’s permanent holdings,” states Max Hollein, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Urs Fischer’s extraordinary work has been celebrated and exhibited around the globe in the last two decades, but his San Francisco presentation will be one of a kind. His site-specific installation at the Legion of Honor is a unique manifestation of artistic imagination, expanded context and institutional challenge.”

In his first major exhibition in San Francisco, Fischer presents more than 30 works installed throughout the Court of Honor, rotunda and upper level galleries of the Legion of Honor. His sculptures and paintings feed off the tension between the material and digital, object and image. Drawing on traditions of Western art history and popular culture, he transforms the processes of creating and consuming artworks.

Fischer plays with the mechanisms of perception to challenge visitors’ awareness of artworks in the context of their surroundings. His layering and juxtaposition of disparate images and objects combined with a distortion of scale often lend his exhibitions the character of an uncanny illusion.

“Urs Fischer’s sprawling exhibition at the Legion of Honor offers a unique opportunity to appreciate his voracious and inventive reinterpretation of image traditions in the context of a historic collection,” says Claudia Schmuckli, curator-in-charge, contemporary art and programming, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Whether complementing or displacing the display of the permanent collection, each intervention is carefully weighed and reveals as much about Fischer’s thinking as it does about that of artists like Rodin, with whom he enters into a conversation.”

Urs Fischer: The Public & the Private is on view from April 22 through July 2 at the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The exhibition is curated by Claudia Schmuckli, the Museum’s inaugural curator-in-charge of contemporary art and programming.

In a redefined vision of the Court of Honor, 16 bronze sculptures by Fischer, including boy in chair (2014) and fireplace (2014), join its permanent resident; Rodin’s The Thinker. They are the outcome of a communal crowd-sourced art making effort, in which Fischer invited the public into an exhibition space turned studio to join him in creating sculptures of clay. Selected pieces were displayed and later cast in bronze, using a process that would preserve the appearance of clay as well as the gestures of the creators’ manipulations. By inviting participants into the creative process and incorporating their contributions into his work, Fischer references Rodin’s collaborative casting practice, involving many hands and assistants, applied to produce the many existing renditions of The Thinker.

Inside the Legion, Fischer orchestrates intimate encounters between his work and objects in the permanent collection galleries. Installed in the rotunda, Invisible Mother (2015) breathes new life and humor into the art historical genre of the vanitas. Doubling as a fountain, it features a skeleton cast in brass and caked in dust, its back arched over a chair while its broken frame is doused with water. Skeletons interacting with decorative or every-day objects appear throughout Fischer’s work. In dialogue with examples of vanitas in 17th-century Flemish still lifes in the adjacent gallery, Invisible Mother reminds visitors about the transience of life.

Another vanitas motif – the burning candle – reappears in Adam (2014–17). This eight-foot-tall wax figure with wicks embedded throughout, is new for the exhibition and forms part of the artist’s series of wax sculptures exploring the dimension of time. Once lit, the work will slowly melt away, leaving tendrils of wax pooled on the floor. Although a portrait of Adam McEwen, an artist and friend of Fischer’s, installed next to Eve in a gallery dedicated to Rodin’s Gates of Hell (1880–1917), Adam also assumes the role of his biblical namesake in Rodin’s ode to Dante’s Inferno.

In the French and Italian Rococo gallery, UF (2015), strikes a more personal tone. The chair as a metaphorical representation of the body is a recurring motif in Fischer’s work. For UF he has made a resin cast of a wooden chair carved for him by his father, in alpine 18th century design, complete with intricate carvings of edelweiss and the artist’s initials. Hands grip the seat and back in a possessive gesture. Foxtrot (2015) installed in the Louis XV Room, among the Museum’s holdings of rococo furniture and decorative arts, again presents the cast of a chair, but in contrast, a modular stackable one. Another set of hands leans on the chair’s back, indicating a person’s – perhaps the artist’s– presence. The simple form of the chair and the habitual gesture of the hands are juxtaposed against the capricious taste and decorative purpose of 18th-century design.

In the 17th-century Flemish gallery, in the place of Peter Paul Rubens’ The Tribute Money (1612), visitors will find Fischer’s Lead & Tin (2016). A double image featuring a female vampire is layered with a ghostly, translucent mask without eyes and mouth that both veils and highlights her expression beneath. Lead & Tin is part of a series of works dedicated to the concept of undead monsters, which play such a dominant role in today’s cultural – and especially cinematic – narrative. In replacing Rubens’ Christ and the miracle of his resurrection, Fischer’s seductive, double-faced vision plays with society’s anxiety ridden relationship with death and the afterlife.

Urs Fischer was born in 1973 in Zurich and studied photography at the Schule für Gestaltung, Zurich. He has exhibited extensively internationally, and his work is included in many important public and private collections worldwide. Fischer has had solo exhibitions at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2016); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2013); Palazzo Grassi, Venice (2012); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2012); New Museum, New York (2009); Blaffer Gallery, The Art Museum of the University of Houston, Texas (2006); Kunsthaus Zürich (2004); and Espace 315, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2004). Fischer’s work has been presented in numerous group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2003, 2007, and 2011); and Gwangju Biennale (2014). Fischer lives and works in New York City.

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