Urs Fischer came to public prominence in 2011 when he melted a full-size wax replica of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Woman at the 50th Venice Biennale. Giambologna’s tour-de-force has stood in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence since 1583, and today the acclaimed Swiss artist returned to this theatre of art and politics to unveil his own offering laid at the statue’s feet. This is Big Clay #4, a stack of small mounds of modelled clay scaled up in silvery aluminium to rise over 12m high. In addition, he offered two more wax effigies for burning – not works of art this time but art impresarios – inserted between the copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofornes and Michelangelo’s David.
Fischer looked on as the Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, lit the life-size ‘candles’ of Fabrizio Moretti, art dealer and secretary general of the Biennale Internazionale d’Antiquariato di Firenze, and curator Francesco Bonami – the two Florentines responsible for this project. It will take about a month for them to melt completely, just metres away from where Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498. What are we to make of this 21st-century Bonfire of the Vanities – and of this latest manifestation of excremental gigantism, for that matter? Is it violation, provocation or simply sensation? Hubris or taking the piss?
The artist himself would not be drawn. ‘The works come here as tourists, and then they leave,’ he said: ‘All I have to say is that art is what you make of it. If you see a flower, it is a flower. If you see a piece of shit, it is a piece of shit.’ Moretti was rather more eloquent. His effigy is melded with that of a 15th-century Sienese sculpture by Neroccio de’ Landi in his private collection: ‘Urs Fischer has captured exactly who I am. Part of art, and a prisoner of it.’ Nothing was mentioned of why Bonami stands on top of a fridge stuffed with beautifully modelled wax fruit and vegetables. There is no doubt, however, that the spectacle, which follows on from projects with Jeff Koons and Jan Fabre, admirably serves the purposes of promoting the Biennale di Antiquariato, which opens to the public today, and the image of a city determined, as Nardella put it, not to allow itself become a mere fossil from the past.
‘Urs Fischer in Florence: Big Clay # 4 and 2 Tuscan Men’ is at the Piazza della Signoria, Florence, until 21 January, 2018.