The head of a water buffalo, a blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol and various polo awards are among the trophies with which Peter Brant has decorated the library in his Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion. Only that isn’t where I am or what I’m seeing.
The room is trompe l’oeil wallpaper created by Swiss artist Urs Fischer for his solo exhibition at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center, a short ride from the mansion. The wallpaper also depicts photographs of Brant’s wife, model Stephanie Seymour. The two are entangled in a messy split that the New York Post described as “Divorce Hell.”
The installation, “Abstract Slavery,” which includes a sitting room, is a clever play on Brant’s job as the chairman and chief executive officer of White Birch Paper Co. One of the major newsprint manufacturers in North America, White Birch filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
Highlighting the transience of trophies, a wax statue of Brant, its wick aflame, slowly melts away in each room.
“I look like John F. Kennedy after he was shot,” said Brant, 63, clad in a tan suit, light-blue shirt and navy-blue tie. “I like the way it melts and turns into an abstraction.”
The show reflects a 3-year collaboration between the art collector known for his trove of Pop Art and the artist whose career has been on fire. Fischer is also in the collections of billionaires Francois Pinault and Dakis Joannou. Last month, a sculpture of his called “The Grass Munchers” consisting of disembodied arms fetched $902,500 at Phillips de Pury in New York, an auction record for the artist.
Many works at the Art Study Center show, bizarrely titled “Oscar the Grouch,” are familiar from Fischer’s appearances at the New Museum, Venice Biennale and gallery exhibitions in London and New York. Yet their thoughtful, uncluttered presentation in a converted, light-filled 1902 stone barn lends the pieces a fresh look, humor and depth.
A Huge Pit
“You” is a huge pit excavated on the first floor and filled with earth, stones and rubble. Brant said he bought the work when it was displayed at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery in New York three years ago and had it recreated on a much bigger scale here. It’s first seen from above, a change that enhances its impact.
“The work is about deconstruction, about where the art world has gone,” said Brant, who began collecting at the age of 19. “And it is ‘You’ because that’s where you are going to end up one day.”
Two mirrored boxes with enlarged images of a sliced onion and Diet Coke greet the visitors in a room overlooking a gigantic polo course with bleachers. The works bring to mind Warhol’s Brillo boxes. At Fischer’s New Museum show earlier this year, an entire floor was filled with similar cubes imprinted with images of oversized mundane objects.
“He observed me over a period of time,” said Brant, sipping Diet Coke. “I recently have taken up cooking. I guess I use a lot of onions.”
Art in America
Brant is also owner and chairman of Brant Publications, which publishes Interview, Modern, Art in America and The Magazine Antiques.
Until Fischer intervened for the wax sculptures, Brant said he never commissioned a portrait of himself despite being friends with artists including Warhol and Jeff Koons. ‘Normally, I don’t like how I look in pictures,” he said.
Fischer scaled up Brant by about 10 to 15 percent while scaling down the space by the same amount. The result is an Alice in Wonderland environment where things look at once hyperrealist and slightly off-kilter, where multimillion-dollar art turns out to be wallpaper.
Brant, who owns all the works included in “Oscar the Grouch,” said the production costs of the show were “substantial” but declined to specify.
“It was a big undertaking,” he said.
The show runs through February 2011. To schedule an appointment, e-mail the center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the reporter of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at email@example.com.