Unrealized Art Idea:
I call it "The Money Pit," and it’s a project to fill in the hole in Urs Fischer’s You (2007) with America’s most wasteful currency, the penny.
1. According to Jerry Saltz, the hole (pictured above left as originally installed at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise) measured 38ft by 30ft by 8ft deep, and all the photos of it suggest a pyramidal shape. That means a 3,000 cubic foot hole (or so).
2. This website suggests that optimal packing of pennies can fit about 49,000 pennies per cubic foot. If we were instead to assume hexagonal packing, which fills 91% of available volume, and knowing that the volume of a penny is something like 0.0000156 cubic feet (converted from 360 cubic millimeters, the apparent online consensus), we reach something like 64,000 pennies per cubic foot.
3. But we really can’t assume optimal packing. I don’t have that kind of time. So with suboptimal packing (just tossin’ ‘em in there) it would probably take between 120,000,000 and 150,000,000 pennies to fill the hole.
4. Above, Saltz estimates that it cost in the range of $250,000 to excavate Brown’s Enterprise gallery back in 2007 when You was first displayed. So at least they paid less for the empty space than they would have for the penny fill.
5. Of course, “Supercollector” Peter Brant later bought You (“in an edition of one,” he boasts) and had Fischer oversee the installation of a larger hole at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut. Neither Brant nor Fischer ever disclosed the price. Here’s video of the full body of work which Fischer executed for Brant (an exhibition titled “Oscar the Grouch”), a deft j’accuse-cum-vanitas which roasts Brant (in both senses of the word) while mock-deferentially playing to the collector’s image of himself as an iconoclast.
6. Several writers (here, here) have remarked that as installed in the back of Brant’s art barn, You evokes a grave, which is perfect for any collector so materialistic that he had to built an art museum for himself.
7. I’m reminded again of Ingo Niermann and Erick Niedling’s 2011 German documentary The Future of Art, in which the filmmakers visit various artists and collectors proposing a grandiose art project: to construct a subterranean pyramid under a large hill which will serve as a mausoleum for the wealthy art collector who pays for it.
8. Above I’ve included a picture of Brant at the bottom of the magnificent pit that Fischer made for him. Perhaps I could convince him to stand there while I dumped the pennies in.
Getting mad at Urs Fischer for making You is like getting mad at Rauschenberg for his Erased de Kooning Drawing. It was a one-off project that isn’t representative of his larger body of work and accidentally the art world’s awe for it caused it to eclipse a lot of the other stuff he made. I mention this to call attention to the incredible and frankly bizarre diversity of the balance of Fischer’s oeuvre, which includes a show called dngszjkdufiybgxfjkglijkhtrkydjkhdghjkd (one installation view here);
an installation of multicolored raindrops and reclining nudes (in one sculpture, a carrot took the place of the odalisque);
”YES,” a multiple-artist workshop which he organized to produce elaborate clay sculptures (here, here, video here);
multiple instances of site-specific gallery-covering trompe l’oeil wallpaper prints (here, here) (sometimes he even installs new work atop wallpaper depicting the work previously hanging in the gallery);
multiple instances of gallery-floor-covering installations of adhesive vinyl and paint;
this rambunctious disgusting mess (note the wallcut and the hovering fruit);
a bread house??;
a horsepital bed???;
galleries within galleries (You was also an example of this);
shadow sculptures of oversized objects;
conceptually-rich kinetic sculptures invoking multiple orders of temporality;
monumental cast-aluminum upscales of small blobs of clay;
this moving wall of mirrors;
this mind-boggling tree built out of 2000 drawings;
quasi-Dadaist confoundments (and this one);
elaborate sound sculptures;
wicked wax sculptures which burn down to nothing (here’s a time-lapse);
and the occasional mysterious silent miniature.
10. I guess I’m just saying I respect him for the breadth of his creativity and the fact that he makes a LOT of work. In the past, I’ve said that it takes commodified repetition of single theme to make it in today’s artworld. But now I’d like to revise that to suggest that if an artist can make it without just making the same thing over and over again, they must be the real deal. Must be! (Right?) Also, the more I look into his work, the more he comes to resemble a trickster like Maurizio Cattelan. Fischer’s work absolutely refuses to fall into a predictable pattern, and it embraces a range of materials, motivations, styles, and tones. Oddly enough, he once remarked, “I wanted to be Mondrian, elegant and serious and without a trace of humour, or perhaps I wanted to become Malevich. But I can’t manage that.” He said that, appropriately enough, in an interview with Maurizio Cattelan.