Smile! Fischli and Weiss at the
Guggenheim Museum in New York

Combining art and comedy is a difficult endeavor. The results often fall flat. At the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Fischli and Weiss are now showing this need not be the case. More than 300 installations, photographic works, sculptures, and videos document the Swiss duo’s 33 years of collaboration. It is the first retrospective following the surprising death of David Weiss in 2012.

Naturally, their classics are on view in New York. The sausage series from 1979, their first large joint work, for which they reenacted car accidents and fashion shows using slices of mortadella, chunks of cheese, and cocktail gherkins. Or The Way Things Go (1987), which went on to become one of the most popular art films of all time. For thirty minutes, the viewer observes a chain reaction caused by flames, balloons, or fireworks. The film can be regarded as absurd slapstick, but also as ironic commentary on physical laws or a philosophical treatise on the meaning of the meaningless.

A focal point of the show is the extensive series of photographs Fischliand Weiss took of flowers and airports. And their popular postcard motifs, which are found works in the Deutsche Bank Collection: paradisiacal beaches, luminous neon advertising, cat babies, or the pyramids. While these are clichés that have been photographed to death, they reflect collective dreams and longings. The two artists very consciously created a tension whereby the viewer can misunderstood their work as being superficial or even naïve, or can find it profound. The fact that they never really resolved such ambivalences attests to the quality of their work.

The exhibition is not limited to the Guggenheim. On Times Square’s electronic billboards, their film Büsi (Kitty), in which a cat is seen lapping milk, is being shown everyday shortly before midnight. The best reaction to so much cuteness – and to all the other works of Fischli und Weiss – is revealed by their mural How to Work Better, which is on view at the corner of Houston and Mott Street in Lower Manhattan and which gives the show its title. It is a list of tips, meant more or less seriously, on how to work better. The last tip is simply called SMILE.

Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better
Until 7/27/2016
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York