Studio Visit: Urs Fischer

A studio visit with the artist.


The sign over the door to artist Urs Fischer’s studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, reads: IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE, SOMEONE ELSE WILL. Clearly, Fischer has nothing but plans. Step inside the vast 12,000-square-foot space teeming with assistants and you’ll spy bronze sculptures waiting to be photographed, a bed sculpture buckling under the weight of poured concrete, and huge paintings drawn from vintage Hollywood headshots. Best known for his outrageous set pieces—he cut an eight-foot-deep hole in the floor of Gavin Brown’s Manhattan gallery and built an alpine chalet from loaves of bread—the Swiss-born Fischer has always found inspiration in the detritus of everyday life. As he prepared for a solo show opening April 15 (through July 15) at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the burly artist greeted W for a studio visit.

Blanched, 2011.

You’re known for changing the details of your shows up to the very last minute, but you’re covered in tattoos, which, of course, are permanent. I stopped getting them 10 years ago. I don’t like the pain. But I don’t mind permanent. I think when tattoos are new and colorful, they look bad. But they look better the older and more bleached out they become. I love seeing tattoos on 60-year-olds who have had them for 40 years.

Critics often point to the sense of loss and decay in your work. Why is decay seen as dark? It’s not. Life is one long decay, no? There’s a lot of beauty in it. Like the patina in an old city.

There seems to be a ton of activity going on in here. I always have a lot of things going on because some things take years to make and others take five minutes. I like that there’s always something going on. Working doesn’t have such a momentous feel—like it’s all or nothing.

What are some of the surprises in your upcoming Venice show? I’m rebuilding my old London studio. In 1999 I ripped out the Sheetrock walls and the floor and took everything inside the studio that had some mark or paint on it—things that had been altered in some way. It’s like a mind map.

I hear you’re a big reader. What are you reading right now? John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s last interview and Life With Picasso, by Françoise Gilot [Picasso’s longtime muse and lover]. I never knew he was so whiny! Every morning he had to have people tell him, “It’s not that bad. You’re great!” Only after an hour of this would he get out of bed. I’m like, Crazy!—you know? Get up!

Photo: Fischer Photographed by Alexis Dahan; Blanched: courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber/Stefan Altenburger.