From 1979 to 2012, Swiss artists Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David Weiss (1946–2012) collaborated on a body of work that offers a deceptively casual meditation on how we perceive everyday life. Through a witty “misuse” of cultural genres—from low-budget Hollywood movies and picture-postcard views to the art historical notion of the readymade—they transformed the ordinary into something decisively not.
Never ones to issue statements or dictate meaning, Fischli and Weiss pondered questions great and small, sometimes imitating whimsical philosophers. Perhaps in part because they were a team of two, they challenged the idea of dualism, a cornerstone of Western thought. In one way or another, everything the artists produced playfully unravels what they understood to be “popular opposites”—labor versus leisure, fiction versus reality, kitsch versus beauty, and the banal versus the sublime, among others. Fischli and Weiss undid false divisions with the conviction that bewilderment itself might be a desirable state. They aimed to confuse hierarchies and values by creating systems doomed to fail and found beauty in states of imminent collapse.
This retrospective brings together over three hundred sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations to form the most complete overview of the artists’ work to date. The presentation is not organized chronologically—instead, selections from each of Fischli and Weiss’s major series appear alongside works from other points in their career, creating dialogues that span the pair’s history of working together. This arrangement reflects the overlapping structure of their production and underscores the coherence of their diverse oeuvre. In this way, the exhibition encapsulates their collaboration, bringing into focus the incisive conversation the two artists sustained for thirty-three years.
Initially planned during David Weiss’s lifetime, Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is organized by Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator, and Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media, in close collaboration with Peter Fischli.
To coincide with this exhibition, two public works by Fischli and Weiss will appear on the streets of New York. From February 5 to May 1, Public Art Fund presents the text-based monument to labor How to Work Better (1991) as a wall mural at the corner of Houston and Mott Streets. At 11:57 pm nightly throughout February, the video Büsi (Kitty) (2001) will appear in Times Square as part of Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment program.