Untitled (Tate) is a room-size installation of hand-carved, painted polyurethane sculptures. The sculptures are of familiar, everyday objects, tools and materials, including plastic buckets, paintbrushes, rubber tyres, furniture, stacked pallets, small items such as milk cartons and cigarette packets, masking tape, and other utensils commonly found in art studios. The sculptures are rendered realistically and are arranged so that the installation resembles a functioning workshop. Every one of the items has been carved and painted by hand with great attention to detail. They have realistic surface textures which give the illusion that they are mass-produced, everyday objects, rather than skilfully hand-crafted sculptures. The installation is designed to fill an entire room; it is in fact the recreation of a room under construction.
Untitled (Tate) was originally commissioned as a site-specific installation for the opening of Tate Modern in 2000. Peter Fischli and David Weiss visited the gallery a few months before the opening, when it was still under construction. The version now owned by Tate is a slightly smaller configuration of the 2000 installation and one of the last of the artists’ major polyurethane sculpture installations, which they began to make in the early 1980s. The latest one, The Objects for Glenstone 2011, was commissioned for the major survey exhibition Peter Fischli and David Weiss held at the Glenstone Foundation Potomac, Maryland, from May 2013 to December 2014. In their earlier installations, such as Raft 1982 (Deichtorhallen, Hamburg) or The Room in Cham 1991 (Forum Junge Kunst, Zug), the polyurethane objects were not finished as realistically as the more precisely rendered, illusionistic sculptures that the artists made for later installations, such as Table 1992 (Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, Basel), Room Under the Stairs 1993 (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt), Empty Room 1995–6 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) and Untitled (Tate).
The type of objects made for Untitled (Tate) and the way that they are arranged give the impression that the gallery is under construction or that repairs are taking place, thus confounding visitors’ expectations. Referring to an earlier version of the installation, art critic Rainald Schumacher remarked that ‘it pretends that it is not an artwork’ (Rainald Schumacher in Sammlung Goetz 2010, p.108). Philosopher and art critic Boris Groys has described the objects as ‘simulated readymades’ because they only appear to function in the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ which are commodity objects presented in the context of an art museum. Fischli and Weiss’s polyurethane sculptures on the other hand are precise replicas of everyday objects (Boris Groys in Tate Modern 2006, p.14). Peter Fischli has described these objects as ‘phantoms’ because they are ‘there in visual terms but not corresponding in terms of touch’ (Fischli quoted in Jörg Heiser, ‘The Odd Couple: Interview with Peter Fischli and David Weiss’, Frieze, no.102, October 2006, p.205). Fischli says:
Perhaps our carved objects have more of an affinity with painted still lifes. In the case of Duchamp the concept of objets trouvés, or ‘found objects’, is important, whereas we try to create objects. Duchamp’s objects could revert back to everyday life at any point in time. Our objects can’t do that, they’re only there to be contemplated. They’re all objects from the world of utility and function, but they’ve become utterly useless. You can’t sit on the chairs we carve. They are, to put it simply, freed from the slavery of their utility. Nothing else is left other than to look at this chair. What else can you do with it?
(Fischli in Fleck, Söntgen and Danto 2005, p.22.)
Robert Fleck, Beate Söntgen and Arthur C. Danto, Peter Fischli David Weiss, London 2005, pp.19, 22, 66, 136, 138–9, reproduced pp.20–1, 23, 124.
Bice Curiger, Peter Fischli and David Weiss (eds.), Fischli/Weiss: Flowers and Questions: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2006, pp.13–18, reproduced pp.22–3.
Ingvild Goetz and Karsten Löckemann (eds.), Peter Fischli, David Weiss, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2010, p.108, reproduced pp.4, 16, 77–81.