The sprawling 13,000-square-foot studio in Brooklyn where Urs Fischer works is a microcosm of the entire art industry: It's part factory, part laboratory, part gallery, part office, part hangout. There's a lofted area where staffers sit at iMacs, an industrial kitchen that could be in a restaurant, a casting workshop, several colossal half-finished screen prints, and a couple of forklifts maneuvering custom crates of finished pieces to be shipped out. Oh, and a nude model—she's part of a 2011 installation that's being photographed.
This is the daily milieu of the 39-year-old Swiss-born artist, who is prepping a massive career retrospective opening April 21 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Visitors to the exhibit will encounter an in-your-face brand of Dadaist Pop Art that is designed to catch viewers off-guard: cast-aluminum skeletons frozen in awkward positions, Renaissance-style wax sculptures that slowly melt down like giant candles, massive holes cut in gallery walls. Fischer's approach, along with his many tattoos and brusque manner, has earned him a rep for being a bad boy.
But in person he's quite the opposite, joking with staffers, doting on his dog, and bemoaning his toddler's sleeping schedule. New works, like an untitled sculpture of a horse with a hospital bed on its back—a model for which sits next to Fischer's desk—are meant to capture "a reminiscence that isn't clear," he says, by "piecing together the remains into a form." Although these surreal objects—which can fetch seven figures and are favored by influential collectors like François Pinault and Dakis Joannou—have made Fischer the toast of the art world, he regards his celebrity warily. "It can be hindering," he says. "It becomes this thing where the 'value' clouds the image." That attitude helps explain his next move: to publish books by his colleagues through his new imprint, Kiito-San. "What is the art world?" Fischer asks. "I never really understood. I started doing this stuff to do what I want to do. Not to be this or that."
Fischer's Greatest Hits
Untitled (Lamp/Bear), 2005–2006
This 23-foot-tall, 34,000-pound bronze teddy bear loomed over office workers in front of the Seagram Building in midtown Manhattan during the summer of 2011. It sold at auction that same year for $6.8 million, a record for Fischer.
Fischer jackhammered an eight-foot-deep crater into the floor of Gavin Brown's Enterprise in New York City's West Village and threw open the gallery doors. Visitors were warned that the exhibition "inherently involves the risk of serious injury or death."
This wagging tongue—which protruded from a glory-hole-like opening in a gallery wall and was activated by a motion detector—was the sleeper hit of Fischer's popular solo show at New York's New Museum.
How Artists Became the New Business Gurus
Next Stop on Artist Cyprien Gaillard's Unsentimental American Road Trip
An Insider's Guide to the Italian Design Renaissance