Untitled 2005 comprises six black and white photographs from the series Photographs (Fotografías) 2005 by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The series consists of underexposed black and white photographs of paintings depicting fairy tale motifs, cityscapes, exotic landscapes, animals, images of the universe and cosmic events, as well as scenes and characters from urban and popular myths, horror stories and science fiction. Fischli and Weiss came across these painted or airbrushed images in amusement parks and fairgrounds from around the world. Over a number of years the artists photographed them using black and white slide film, which is underexposed by two to three aperture points, and printed them on coloured paper to subdue tonal contrasts. Each print measures four by six inches, the standard size for snapshots and postcards. The colourful, large-scale, kitsch paintings are thus transformed into small, dark, haunting photographs.
There are 108 individual photographs in the entire series, which can be divided into eighteen groups of six prints. Tate owns four untitled groups from the series: Tate P20330, P20331, P20332 and P20333. The prints are always arranged in their groups, hung across the gallery wall in a single horizontal line at eye level. When displayed together they form a frieze that invites the viewer to construct a narrative by reading one picture next to the other, allowing them to ‘engage their own imaginations while likewise revealing the artists’ enjoyment in storytelling’ (Rainald Schumacher in Sammlung Goetz 2010, p.96). Photographs from the series are usually shown alongside one or more of the artists’ sculptures of everyday objects cast in black rubber, such as Untitled (Small Root) 2005 (Tate T12354).
Remarking on the pair’s experience making photographic projects, such as Visible World 1997 (Tate T07885), which consists of 3000 colour slides taken during their journeys around the world, Peter Fischli notes that:
With photography, you always bounce on the wall of the visible. There is no way of going behind that wall. Using the trick of taking images of painted things [in the Photographs series], most of them about dreams and fears, we found a sort of a fake hole in the wall of the visible, but maybe it was only a painted hole.
(Fischli in ‘From Dessau to Las Vegas’, lecture presented at the Barbican, London, 30 May 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO-x-qOkR5A, accessed 20 December 2012.)
The artists’ appropriation of imagery from popular culture and their adaptation of common, everyday objects can be understood in relation to the history of pop art and its legacies. The kind of kitsch, stereotypical or commercial imagery used by Fischli and Weiss has been the subject of appropriation by artists such as Andy Warhol (1928–1987) and Jeff Koons (born 1955), but also of critique by the philosopher Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and the art critic Clement Greenberg (1909–1994). However, the art critic Jörg Heiser has suggested that rather than ironically appropriating imagery of ‘low culture’ and turning it into ‘high art’, Fischli and Weiss’s reduction of the fairground paintings to small, black and white images in the Photographs series invites viewers ‘to gain a new insight into them: we suddenly recognise not so much drained stereotypes as emotionally charged icons’ (Jörg Heiser in Tate Modern 2006, pp.313–14).
Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Fotografias, Cologne 2005, unpaginated.
Bice Curiger, Peter Fischli and David Weiss (eds.), Fischli/Weiss: Flowers and Questions: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2006, pp.311–15, reproduced pp.310, 316–18.
Ingvild Goetz and Karsten Löckemann (eds.), Peter Fischli, David Weiss, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2010, p.96, reproduced pp.40–1, 60–1, 89–95.