On Urs Fischer’s work

Urs Fischer, Untitled
Close Urs Fischer, Untitled, 2011-2020 (détail/detail). © Urs Fischer. Courtesy de l’artiste et Pinault Collection. Photo Stefan Altenburger.
July 7, 2021

On Urs Fischer’s work

“[A] monument to those who pass by, a monument to impermanence, movement, dynamics, and to creative destruction.” Martin Bethenod

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By Martin Bethenod,
Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Can you tell us more about this work occupying a central place in the Rotunda under the monumental dome?

This is a work by Swiss artist Urs Fischer, who is 47 years of age and who lives in the United States. He is very important in the Pinault Collection, since he has been present since the opening of the first exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in 2006. He is also the first artist to whom François Pinault gave carte blanche at the Palazzo Grassi in 2012. This particular piece by Urs Fischer is a scale-one replica of a famous Renaissance statue, The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, a masterpiece of Mannerist sculpture from 1580, which can be found in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

The installation of this Urs Fischer sculpture in the centre of the Rotunda is a way of considering the Rotunda as a kind of public space or square. We are not in a museum room. We are in a public place, albeit covered by a glass roof, covered with a dome, but a space in which people wander and cross paths, nonetheless. This is why the artist designed a very specific pedestal or base, resembling the type of base found in Italian squares, in order to install this sculpture here. Therefore, the work is a way of making a link between the Rotunda and the Bourse de Commerce with the cradle of Western sculpture, or indeed, the cradle of Renaissance sculpture: the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

The original version of The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, exists in marble in Florence, and measures six metres in height. The top of Tadao Ando’s concrete cylinder is 9 metres. To fully play with the effects of proportion between this sculpture and the space hosting it, Urs Fischer has thus slightly raised it, by installing this base, similar to the ones found in Italian public squares.

“The installation of this Urs Fischer sculpture in the centre of the Rotunda is a way of considering the Rotunda as a kind of public space or square.”

How can the visitor approach this work, observe and understand it?

This work by Urs Fischer is not in marble, like Giambologna’s original. It is made of wax. It is, in fact, a gigantic candle and this candle brings into play one of the most important materials central to this sculpture: time.

This work is made and designed to change or metamorphose throughout the duration of the exhibition. When the exhibition opens, it will be as we see it right now, perfect, precise, hyper realistic. We will light the wicks and as the exhibition continues, it will start to flow and melt, so that at the end, there is nothing left. Simply a mass of shapes, born from chance, blocks of molten wax. (…)

Time is one of the main elements of this piece. In addition to the sensation of space, Urs Fischer is also inviting us to experience the sensation of time.

“Time is one of the main elements of this piece.”

The presence of the six chairs, of the artist friend, and other sculptures, seem more enigmatic than the large sculpted Renaissance group. What is the meaning of their presence?

Around this large monumental sculpture, which is the main and most spectacular element of the installation, are eight other objects that are also candles. One of these objects represents a standing man, an artist. This is Rudolf Stingel, a friend of Urs Fischer, who has a room dedicated to him on the second floor of the Bourse de Commerce.

The other seven objects consist of chairs. They were designed by the artist, in response to the mural measuring 1,400 square metres, positioned above visitors’ heads. This work was originally installed for the opening of the Bourse de Commerce in 1889 and (…) it represented France and thriving trade networks across the five continents, along with references to travel and the genesis of globalization. Urs Fischer’s idea was to install seven chairs around the central, monumental sculpture, which speak of his own travels and journeys, and that same notion of globalization. We can even find an airplane chair. There is also a Monobloc chair, which is undoubtedly the most common manufactured object on all five continents. We also have a set of armchairs coming from different cultures, Africa, Asia, etc. In other words, it is through the seven other candles, plus the artist’s friend, that Urs Fischer creates a link between what is happening here, on the ground floor of the Bourse de Commerce, and what is happening in the iconographic panorama above.

A link is also created between this first exhibition space, the Rotunda, and the gallery where Stingel’s works are displayed. It is a way of relating the different spaces to each other.


We have this striking memento mori for the museum’s inaugural exhibition. Is it a symbol of melancholy or of celebration?

What is striking about this work by Urs Fischer is that in a way, everything has to disappear, or rather everything will disappear. Everything must go and yet this is not exactly an ode to the vanitas genre. Vanitas is very important in the history of art.

It’s also a very important theme in contemporary art, and one that is strongly present in the Pinault Collection. It is therefore no surprise that we find it here, even if Urs Fischer interprets it in a way that is much less melancholic than one might initially think. At the beginning, the work is vertical, dynamic; it rises upwards. It is born from precision, from gesture. It is born from a relationship with all that the history of art embodies in terms of perfection, academicism. As time goes by, the flames cause this sculpture to inverse all of those values. It was vertical, but by the end of it, it’s nothing more than a horizontal mass of puddles. It was perfect, born from care and precision. In the end, it is born from chance. It was formal, even hyper formal, and in the end, it is rendered informal, even formless. What happens during the few months of this work’s existence, that is to say its consumption, is something that cannot be destroyed. It is not something lost, but something transformed. We go from one state to another, as if all the values of this work were reversed. But not to produce nothing, to produce something else. Something born of chance, of time, of life. Much more than a vanitas, it is undoubtedly an evocation of the creativity of destruction, of metamorphosis, of the fact that one can never freeze anything or stop anything.

This is a very important theme in Fischer’s work. To present this piece in this space at the inauguration of the museum, with the restoration and re-opening to the public of this monument that is the Bourse de Commerce, means in a certain way, making the Bourse a monument, but a monument to those who pass by, a monument to impermanence, movement, dynamics, and to creative destruction.

“[A] monument to those who pass by, a monument to impermanence, movement, dynamics, and to creative destruction.”