Urs Fischer (b. 1973)
Urs Fischer (b. 1973)

Airports Are Like Nightclubs

Urs Fischer (b. 1973)
Airports Are Like Nightclubs
signed and dated 'Urs Fischer 05' (on the robotic arm)
figure runs its fingers through its hair every few minutes
mechanical robot, silicone, pigment and wig
sculpture: 26 x 14 x 31 in. (66 x 35.5 x 78.7 cm.)
pedestal: 33 x 25 x 21 in. (83.8 x 63.5 x 53.3 cm.)
Executed in 2005. This sculpture is unique.
Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
Private collection, Miami
Acquired from the above by the present owner
M. Gioni and J. Morgan, Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, Zurich, 2010, pp. 368-369 and 467 (illustrated in color).
New York, Gavin Brown's enterprise, Fig, Nut & Pear, March-February 2005.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Urs Fischer--Paris 1919, April-May 2006, pp. 52, 53 and 77 (illustrated in color).

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Robert Manley
Robert Manley

Lot Essay

Airports Are Like Nightclubs is an arresting and unique bio-mechanical sculpture executed by Swiss artist Urs Fischer. The sculpture combines cast silicone and an assembly of sinuous cables and heavy metal mechanized elements, taking on a humorous likeness to the artist in an unconventional take on the self-portrait. The artist's face, rendered in silicone, sports a yellow-blonde, pre-fabricated wig, eyes firmly closed and mouth forcefully bound shut. Synthetic copies of his arms and hands cover the the machine's motorized limbs that reach up periodically to touch the face and pass through its tousled hair. This sexually charged sculpture meditates on "the poignant brevity of an everyday gesture or the familiarity of an intuitive placement of arms or legs" (J. Morgan, "If you Build your House on a Bed of Rotting Vegetables", quoted in Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, New York, 2009, p. 46). As its title intimates, the artist sees those instances of informal body language - witnessed in the airport as freely as in the nightclub - as markers of sexual advance. Yet in Airports Are Like Nightclubs, Fischer confronts us with his man-machine's surprising visage, instead of the stereotypically coquettish, narcissistic or nervous gesticulation of a woman. This sculpture powerfully engages the legacy of European 20th Century conceptual art and in particular Marcel Duchamp in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923). In doing so, Fischer artfully demystifies the nuances of human body language and challenges contemporary gender conventions.

The human figure and self-portrait consistently inspire Fischer's art, most frequently besieging his forms with decapitation, penetration, melting and fragmentation. In Airports Are Like Nightclubs, the figure is not under attack, but rather deconstructed, the body's movements and gestures reduced to mechanized moves. Fischer here demystifies human body language with its panoply of small suggestive postures, and brings the nature of flirtation and sexual advance into stark but humorous relief.

This position is similarly reflected in the The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even commonly referred to as The Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp. We can understand the present work as a product of this art historical antecedent. In The Large Glass, from Duchamp's early years in Paris, the artist has carefully reduced the composition's figures to various scientific instruments. In the top panel, Duchamp rendered the bride in diagrammatic form through assembling meteorological apparatus including weather vanes, hygrometers and barometers (L. Henderson, Duchamp in Context: Science and Technology in the Large Glass and Related Works, Princeton, 1998, pp. 121-22). She communicates with the bachelors beneath her through a proscribed set of elemental devices: wind, water and gas that can all be measured. Airports Are Like Nightclubs arguably draws parallels with this work, with its robot cybernetically reducing human interactions to the forces of scientific empiricism.

Duchamp equally engaged questions of gender identity, often casting himself in photographs wearing a series of wigs as his feminine alter ego, Rrose Sélavy. These photographs challenge the assumptions that determine society's projection of the male/female binary, as does the robotic effigy of Fischer dressed in a wig for Airports Are Like Nightclubs. Mechanically composed, Airports Are Like Nightclubs incisively and humorously comments on the human condition.

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