It was the exhibition that everyone seemed so eager to hate: Mega-dealer Larry Gagosian’s Lower East Side “pop-up” space, open through May 23, showcasing sculptures by Urs Fischer inside a former Chase bank on Delancey Street. (Another gallery outpost at 821 Park Avenue is hosting his massive bronze piece, “last supper.”) “How’s Gagmewithaspoon?,” my friend inquired, rolling her eyes via text message. “You’re going to see Urs Fischer?” asked one young man of his companion, lounging at a more sedate opening for an octogenarian Lebanese painter around the corner. “Oh, how ‘exciiiiiting.’” I wasn’t immune to sarcasm and doubt myself, having previously fired off a snarky tweet after reading the gallery’s announcement about Larry’s attempt to get down with the downtown kids. (“New @Gagosian pop-up outpost in LES is sponsored by @PBR_USA; venue’s official name is Larry’s [expletive deleted] Playhouse.”)
The Fischer works on view were cast versions of figurative pieces the artist had made at Geffen Contemporary in 2013, sculpted in conjunction with around 1,500 volunteers. The plan, according to the press release, was to show them “set in contrast with the bland architectural features, which have been retained from the bank.” Larry wasn’t joking. I arrived at around 6 p.m., beating the mobs that I imagine turned up later, so it was actually hard to figure out which building was hosting the Fischer show. It turned out to be 104 Delancey, a positively grody structure covered in window graffiti and a flier advertising PAINTING AND FLOOR SANDING services. There were no wall labels or signage (not counting Chase corporate branding held over from the space’s former life); you entered through what I’m guessing had originally been the foyer, with its bank of ATMs, and then proceeded into the main lobby, where a sculpture of a male figure sprawled sickly in a chair was arranged beneath a shiny blue version of the bank’s logo. The show is called “mermaid, pig, bro w/ hat,” and it was easy enough to pick out these key elements: The mermaid sprawled in the lobby; the hatted bro perhaps the enormous pirate-type bust hanging out behind the teller counter, as if waiting for your deposits; the pig a cute gold-plated thing in the employee break room, smiling while being sodomized by a very small humanoid figure.
And you know what? Say what you will about the overall conceit — the bluest of blue-chip dealers slumming it, the whole affair some sort of astroturf DIY effort to seem scrappy and relevant — but Gagosian’s pop-up is actually pretty damn cool. The pieces are plopped throughout the gutted interior, next to water fountains or empty safes, tucked inside the upper shelves of empty closets. Urs Fischer might be BFFs with billionaire Peter Brant, who he once memorialized as a candle-sculpture, but for a minute it’s possible to forget all that, since “mermaid, pig, bro w/ hat” feels authentically gritty and weird, rather than someone’s slickly marketed idea of “gritty and weird.” Gagosian is certainly not the first huge gallerist to try an offbeat downtown reinvention — just think of Marlborough, whose Broome Street location opened last year with a group show dedicated to pizza — but what’s shocking is how well the oft-reviled dealer pulls it off. Naysayers should be nervous; just wait until the inevitable day when Go-Go crosses the river and invades Bushwick.
— Scott Indrisek (@indrisek)
(Photos: Scott Indrisek)