NGA ignites new ‘innovative’ sculpture

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Nick Mitzevich igniting Urs Fischer’s “Francesco” 2017. Photo: National Gallery of Australia

“I HAVE had safety training”, said National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich, as he held a blow torch this morning (March 15) during the unveiling of a new sculpture. 

He ignited “Francesco”, 2017, by Swiss artist, Urs Fischer, before he said: “Now it’s alive.”

Climbing down to explain details of the four-metre high wax sculpture purchased for $1 million with the assistance of the Foundation Gala Dinner Fund.

“It defines the moment we are in,” Mitzevich said.

He said Fischer had flipped the notion of what art is in the 21st century and suggesting that the NGA had an important role to play in bringing the most innovative and progressive art to Australian audiences.

A view of Urs Fischer’s half-melted work, “Big Clay #4 and Two Tuscan Men,” Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy, 2017–2018

“Francesco” was conceived as a wax candle “portrait” in a pose capturing an intense connection to a mobile phone – a familiar reminder of the common obsession with phones and technology. Inside the head are candle wicks, which will be lit and over time will see the sculpture turn into a puddle of wax on the floor. The work will be lit each week over six months, and when fully melted will be recast to its original form.

“[Fischer] looks at birth, life and destruction,” Mitzevich said.

“We witness the birth, the life and the death of an artwork — [and] guess what? Like the Phoenix, it lives again.”

Mitzevich said Fischer had in mind the European tradition of still life and to that end had emulated “the things around us”, like the mobile phone and the huge wax refrigerator, packed with “fresh” wax vegetables and fruit, which had become the plinth.

“This sculpture shows us that art in the 21st century shape shifts, it is not static, it is alive and always changing, reflecting the world in which we live,” Mitzevich said of his first major acquisition since coming to the gallery last year.

“It is the opposite of Michelangelo’s David because it is wax, not marble, and will disintegrate as it burns to the ground.”

“Francesco” is just one sculpture from a series of wax portraits Fischer created since discovering the material as a medium.

“And now Australians can experience this captivating work of art which lures you to watch it morph with every visit to Canberra—But I won’t be burning the house down,” he said.


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Helen Musa
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