PETER FISCHLI DAVID WEISS: HOW TO WORK BETTER
Peter Fischli David Weiss
At the Carpet Shop (from Sausage Series), 1979
Chromogenic print, 24 x 36 cm
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Clinton and Della Walker Acquisition Fund, 1993
© 2015, Peter Fischli and David Weiss
(NEW YORK, NY—December 7, 2015)—From February 5 to April 20, 2016, the Solomon R. Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better,
the first comprehensive survey in a New York museum of the remarkable
33-year artistic partnership between Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David
Weiss (1946–2012). Gathering more than three hundred sculptures,
photographs, slide projections, and videos, the presentation
encapsulates and culminates the dynamic collaboration between the Swiss
artists, bringing into focus the generative and incisive dialogue they
sustained over the course of their joint career. Through its
simultaneously witty and profound appropriation of cultural genres—from
low-budget Hollywood flicks and picture-postcard views to the art
historical trope of the readymade and the kind of amateur philosophy
found in self-help books—the work continues to probe our grasp of
reality and offer a deceptively casual meditation on how we perceive
everyday life. As contemporary alchemists, Fischli and Weiss transformed
the ordinary into something decisively not.
Guggenheim Museum presents
Initially planned during David Weiss’s lifetime, Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better
is organized by Nancy Spector, Jennifer and David Stockman Chief
Curator and Deputy Director, and Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and
Media, in close collaboration with Peter Fischli.
Unfolding along the museum’s spiraling ramps and into one Tower
gallery, the exhibition departs from a traditional retrospective’s
chronological format. Instead, select bodies of work appear in dialogues
that span the breadth of Fischli and Weiss’s collaboration. In this
way, the presentation highlights compelling connections among different
series and underscores the conceptual coherence of the artists’
The exhibition also focuses on the centrality of film and video to Fischli and Weiss’s practice,
with photographs, sculptures, and installations placed alongside moving-image works in order to
represent the full scope of their oeuvre.
Throughout the course of their partnership, Fischli and Weiss probed the idea of dualistic thinking.
Perhaps because they were a team of two involved in constant dialogue and debate, they consistently
interrogated Western culture’s reliance on contraries. In one way or another, everything they produced
together playfully unravels what the artists understood to be “popular opposites”—labor versus leisure,
fiction versus reality, kitsch versus beauty, and the banal versus the sublime. Through their sustained
investigation into the everyday, Fischli and Weiss undid false dichotomies with the conviction that
bewilderment might be a desirable state. The artists embodied this approach in their alter egos, Rat and
Bear, who, for all their differences (rats being ugly and ubiquitous while pandas are lovable and
endangered), appear as equal partners in their various misadventures. Rat and Bear surface throughout
Fischli and Weiss’s work in a range of forms, including appearances in the early films The Least
Resistance (1980–81) and The Right Way (1983); as “authors” of the artists’ book Order and Cleanliness
(1981); and as a sculpture, Rat and Bear (Sleeping) (2008).
Never ones to issue statements or dictate meaning, Fischli and Weiss avoided the authoritative voice of
the artist and acted instead as whimsical philosophers who pondered all questions, great and small. No
inquiry was too extraordinary or too trivial, whether metaphysical or empirical, as evinced by works such
as Large Question Pot (1984) and the series Question Projections (2000–2003), which features phrases
both fanciful (“Is it true that traces of aliens have been found in yogurt?”) and serious (“Is everything
meaningless?”). The artists aimed to confuse traditional hierarchies and value systems. Many of their
projects take the form of vast archives that resemble subjective encyclopedias, accumulated over
decades with little distinction made between the important and the mundane. The exhibition includes
slide-show presentations of postcardlike tourist views from Visible World (1986–2012) and Airports
(1987–2012) that dare us to admit their beauty. In Fotografías (2005), hand-painted signs from
amusement parks and carnivals are transformed into dozens of eerie small-format black-and-white
photographs. Suddenly This Overview (1981– ), a series of tiny clay sculptures that chronicle an
idiosyncratic world history, is installed on one of the Guggenheim’s ramps as a field of over 150
miniature tableaux. In the Aye Simon Reading Room, Untitled (Venice Work) (1995)—96 hours of realtime
footage shot largely in the artists’ native Zürich and including myriad scenes of labor and leisure—
serves as a meditation on what constitutes the everyday in this European city and beyond.
When not documenting the world around them, Fischli and Weiss played with signs and symbols for
that world. In their first project, Sausage Series (1979), the artists emulated vignettes from classical
paintings and popular culture in photographed compositions of luncheon meats and household items.
Subsequent series such as Rubber Sculptures (1986–88/2005–06) and Cars (1988) bring heightened
attention to the products that populate daily life. This impulse culminated in various polyurethane
installations (1991– ) that cannily subvert the Duchampian readymade with painstakingly hand-carved
copies of ordinary objects ranging from table lamps, cassette tapes, and pizza boxes to the paint cans,
wood scraps, and tools occupying the artists’ studio. These surrogates are meant not so much to
confuse as to give pause. They are simple reminders of a more complicated existence that become
holes in our perception, like blank spaces or cutouts. Unstitching the fabric of reality, Fischli and Weiss
consistently courted the implausible. They often spoke about their deliberate “misuse” of time and
materials. In the series of photographs titled Equilibres (A Quiet Afternoon) (1984–86) and their
renowned video The Way Things Go (1987), they recorded unlikely balancing acts and chemical
reactions that animated the most mundane of objects in ballets of utter precariousness. The artists
created systems doomed to fail and found delight in the entropic beauty of imminent collapse.
To coincide with the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition, two public projects in New York bring Fischli
and Weiss’s work to a wider audience. As part of the Midnight Moment program, Times Square Arts
and Times Square Advertising Coalition show Büsi (Kitty) (2001) every night at 11:57 pm throughout
the month of February 2016; the artists’ video of a cat drinking milk was first shown in Times Square in
2001. The Public Art Fund presents How to Work Better (1991), the artists’ text-based monument to
labor, as a wall mural in Lower Manhattan, marking the first time it has been shown outside its original
installation as a mural in Zürich. The Public Art Fund’s Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is
on view from February 5 through May 1, 2016, at Houston and Mott Streets.
Major support for the exhibition has been provided by Laurenz Foundation, Schaulager, Basel.
The Leadership Committee for Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is gratefully
acknowledged for its support, with special thanks to Chairs Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann.
Additional support is provided by Matthew Marks; Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers; Galerie Eva
Presenhuber; Glenstone; Collection Ringier; Alfred Richterich; Walter A. Bechtler Foundation,
Switzerland; Ulla Dreyfus-Best; Gigi and Andrea Kracht; Arend and Brigitte Oetker; and Sylvie
Funding is also generously provided by ART MENTOR FOUNDATION LUCERNE, the Swiss Arts Council
Pro Helvetia, and New York State Council on the Arts.
Following its New York presentation, Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better travels to Museo
Jumex in Mexico City, where it is on view from June 9 through September 11, 2016.
Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue authored
by Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman, with contributions by Ann Goldstein, Isabelle Graw, John Kelsey,
and Anne Wheeler. The publication, a definitive account of Fischli and Weiss’s vital contribution to
contemporary art, features an in-depth examination of the artists’ collaboration, augmented by
hundreds of archival images, notes on process, and interview excerpts culled from their archives. The
catalogue is copublished with DelMonico Books, an imprint of Prestel Publishing. A hardcover edition
priced at $75 will be available at the museum store and online at guggenheimstore.org.
Education and Public Programs
Find details about the public programs presented in conjunction with Peter Fischli and David Weiss:
How to Work Better at guggenheim.org/publicprograms. Highlights include the following:
Sunday, February 7, 4 pm
Peter Fischli in Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist
As part of the Elaine Terner Cooper Education Fund Conversations with Contemporary Artists series,
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes, Serpentine Gallery, London, joins
Peter Fischli to discuss his 33-year collaboration with the late David Weiss. $15, $10 members, free for
students with RSVP. Tickets will be available at guggenheim.org/calendar.
How to Work Better
Date to be announced
In this half-day symposium, esteemed scholars, and curators come together to discuss Fischli and
Weiss’s polyvalent practice and reconsider their work’s relationships to architecture, cinema, internet
culture, performance, temporality, and other themes. The symposium is followed by a reception and
viewing of Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better. Ticket information will be announced in the
It Takes Two
Wednesday, April 20, 7 pm–2 am
Why do creative minds gravitate toward one another? What is the unique result of creating in pairs?
Why is the trope of the comic-tragic duo so prevalent in film and literature? In this extended program,
the Guggenheim invites a wide range of speakers and performers from a variety of fields to address
these questions on the occasion of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s retrospective. The program is
organized by Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman. Ticket information will be announced in the spring.
The Least Resistance (1980–81) and The Right Way (1983)
Fridays–Wednesdays, February 5–April 20
11 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm, and 3:30 pm
Two films by Peter Fischli and David Weiss follow Rat and Bear, the artists’ iconic alter egos, as they set
out to strike it rich in the Los Angeles art world (The Least Resistance, 1980–81, 29 min.) and wander
through a bucolic mountainside landscape (The Right Way, 1983, 55 min.). Free with museum
Curator’s Eye Tours
Free with museum admission.
Friday, February 12, 12 pm
Curator’s Eye Tour with Anne Wheeler, Assistant Curator
Friday, March 25, 12 pm
Curator’s Eye Tour with Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media
This tour will be interpreted in American Sign Language.
Friday, April 8, 12 pm
Curator’s Eye Tour with Nancy Spector, Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator and Deputy
About the Artists
Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David Weiss (1946–2012) began their 33-year collaboration in 1979. Resisting
any specific style, medium, or material, their work explores the poetics of banality—the sublimity of the
objects and events constituting everyday life. Indebted to Dada, Surrealism, Pop Art, and Conceptual
Art, their photographs, videos, slide projections, films, books, sculptures, and multimedia installations
rely on keen observation and uncanny wit. Solo exhibitions of their work have been organized by
Kunstmuseum Basel (1985); List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge (1987); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1992); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1996);
Museu d’art contemporani de Barcelona (2000); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(2003–04); Tate Modern, London (2006–07); and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,
Madrid (2009), among others. Their work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions,
including significant presentations at Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1987); Skulptur Projekte Münster
(1987 and 1997); the Venice Biennale (1988, 1995, 2003, and 2013); the Carnegie International,
Pittsburgh (1988 and 2008); the São Paulo Biennial (1989); and the Yokohama International Triennial
(2008). In 2003 Fischli and Weiss received the Leone d’Oro at the 50th Venice Biennale, and in 2006
they were awarded the Roswitha Haftmann Prize.
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the
understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through
exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim network that
began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy
Guggenheim Collection, Venice, has since expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
(opened 1997), and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (currently in development). The Guggenheim
Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that celebrate contemporary art,
architecture, and design within and beyond the walls of the museum, including the Guggenheim UBS
MAP Global Art Initiative and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. More
information about the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation can be found at guggenheim.org.
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