Urs Fischer – Was Christie’s Too Bullish on the Bear?

Who says that business on Park Avenue is cut-throat? Just look at the enormous 20-ton teddy bear (with its own nite-lite) on the plaza in front of the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and Park Avenue. The painted bronze sculpture by the hyper-biennialized Swiss installation artist Urs Fischer, and officially called Untitled (Lamp/Bear), might be huggable if it were smaller and weren’t surrounded by 24-hour team of grizzly security guards who, albeit oversized, look more like Rottweilers than stuffed animals.

Buyers at Christie’s weren’t fighting like wild animals to buy the huge Fischer piece, and the price fell short of the $10 million that the auction house and its consignors (the dealers Jose and Alberto Mugrabi) had hoped to get. They still got a record price for a work by Fischer at auction. They also got publicity.  Christie’s paid to reinforce the Seagram building plaza to support 20 tons of sculpted bear. It’s also paying for the piercingly bright lamp that is part of the installation – and for the security detail. A Christie’s rep swore that the sculpture had nothing to do with Aby Rosen, the art collector who owns the Seagram Building and the Lever House diagonally across the street. That hasn’t kept Rosen from basking in the bear’s harsh glow. 

Warhol Self-Portrait(s) Lead the Way at Christie's at $38,442,500 - Four-Way Mirror?

It was Andy Warhol who fittingly held on to his fame and stole the night. Even before the Warhol sold, Untitled by Cindy Sherman, another  artist’s view of herself from 1981, sold for $3,890,500, setting a record for Sherman and for any photograph at auction.

Bear in mind that the Seagram Building is home to the Four Seasons, the restaurant where works by Pablo Picasso and James are among what remains of Philip Johnson’s interior mise-en-scene. (If you think the food there is expensive, don’t order the art.) The tableware and furniture are part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. So far, Urs Fischer is not part of the Picasso/Rosenquist club, but he has joined the jet set ranks of giganticizing/infantilizing satirists like Jeff Koons, Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, and Yoshitomo Nara (Nara’s black dog was a bargain at $602,500 million at Sotheby’s weak evening sale on May 10).

The bear wasn’t the only offering by Fischer that lit up Christie’s auction. Airports Are Like Nightclubs, a blithe-new-world robotic female figure (head and arm atop a metal stand) which passed its hand through blonde hair at regular intervals, brought $602,500.  Overheard at the sale – “I could have gotten a Nara dog for that.”


Urs Fischer's Airports Are Like Nightclubs - Electric Ladyland?

Will Fischer be back at auction? Probably. We know he’ll be post-modernizing the Seagram Building’s plaza for the next five months, 24 hours a day — illuminated. Remember, there’s a light there with the bear.

We’ve already seen collectors pay dearly for poodles and puppies.What’s next? A huge seal, in honor of the attack that killed Bin Laden?

(photos courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.)


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