Peter Fischli and David Weiss: Merry Pranksters

The Guggenheim Museum honors the creative duo with their first retrospective.


Among the first works that the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss made together, in 1979, was a series of pictures called “The Sausage Photographs,” one of which depicts a family of cornichons examining piles of pancetta and stacked slices of mortadella, while a white radish lingers nearby. Until Weiss’s death, in 2012, Fischli/Weiss, as the duo came to be known, played up this sort of childlike humor, making art from everyday objects. But they were not merely teasing. “Banality is just a first impression,” says Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim Museum’s deputy director, who has organized their first New York retrospective, “Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better” (February 5 through April 20). The two had a way of elevating the ordinary: They turned amateur photography into high art and crafted painstakingly hand-carved sculptures of mundane objects, like pizza boxes. For their 1987 film, The Way Things Go, widely recognized as a masterpiece, they used the detritus in their studio—tires, trash bags, old shoes—to create a long causal chain in which objects burned, dissolved, and slid down ramps. “On one level, they’re tinkerers,” Spector says. “But the work is quite profound.”**