For his third solo exhibition at The Project, New York, Swiss artist Nic Hess marks a departure from his site-specific, large-scale tape “drawings” with a series of new sculptures. In the same vein, however, Hess continues to make critical use of familiar images and logos now rampant in society. By isolating and dissecting these images in seemingly incongruous arrangements, he is able to provide revelatory new aesthetic contexts outside of the inscribed value systems of commercial capitalism.
The sculpture King Gerrit borrows from Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair, one of the most iconic pieces of modern furniture. In Hess’ version, the back of the chair is lengthened to the point of instability and the legs are secured with colored masking tape that extends to the surrounding floor space. Appearing more like a throne than a chair, this is an homage at once explicit and open-ended to the furniture designer (Hess studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands from 1992 to 1996).
Several of Hess’ new sculptures feature different body parts in isolation. In From Crutch to Cane, a display dummy holds a cane while also balancing an 18th century gun on the same arm. Forming a long zigzag that is constructed out of several canes, this floor installation is a reminder of human frailty—canes used by the elderly, crutches by the injured. Hess also transforms a carved wooden mask from Lötschental, one of the largest valleys in the Bernese Alps, into a fountain-sculpture titled Brunnen der wiederkehrenden Tränen (Fountain of Recurring Tears). Water pumping through the left eye gives it anthropomorphic qualities, suggesting a suspended state of grief.
Similarly, in Gottesanbeter, (mantis) an I.V. stand is transformed into a mobile figure with outstretched arms and a welcoming hand. Its head is composed of an oversized, rolled-up 100 Swiss Franc bill bearing the face of Alberto Giacometti. The sculpture is a portrait of Giacometti, inspired by the shapes of his figures and drawings. The work is also another example of the artist’s enduring investigation of the intersection of art with the social, political, and economic implications of Switzerland’s private banking sector.
Off-Shore Island Trade, a four piece wall installation, takes as its point of departure the disappearance of Paul Cézanne’s Boy in a Red Waistcoat from the E.G. Buehrle Collection museum earlier this year. Cézanne’s work is used as a symbol for money outside its legal circuit. The artist imagines that the painting is now located somewhere on the Cayman Islands or Bahamas, hiding in a palm tree waiting for its exchange into money through a secret change of ownership.
Nic Hess was born in 1968 in Zurich. Selected solo exhibitions include the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh; bytheway projects, Amsterdam; Arndt & Partner, Zurich; Figgevonrosen Gallery, Cologne; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Casa del Lago, Mexico City; Swiss Institute, New York. Projected exhibitions include the Hammer Museum in spring 2009.