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moderndallas.net
Special “Eye” to Watch
June Mattingly // contributing art writer

Vernon Fisher: K-Mart Conceptualism

This retrospective of Vernon Fisher (born in 1974 in Fort Worth and has lived since
1977), conceivably could be the beginning of his achieving the international
fame of the famous Texas artist, Robert Rauschenberg (1925- 2008). Both caught
critics' and curators' full attention while still very much alive and continually
producing art which combines commonplace images and narrative texts
in multiple mediums - painting, sculpture and installation - in unbelievably
similar but different ways.
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Fisher comments, “I have an attraction to that kind of subject matter, and have written my
share of pieces featuring Dairy Queens, grocery stores, laundromats, third-rate hotels, etc.”
Fisher’s use of a combination of mainstream references gives the show its title; he does not
consider “Kmart a pejorative descriptor.” Since coming to the Modern Auping added seven
Fishers to the permanent collection. “The decision to mount a retrospective of a local artist’s
work was a struggle…I wanted a show that would surprise people who think they know Vernon’
s work.” The two level gallery spaces provide quantitate space for the display of sculpture and
works from the permanent collection along with Fisher’s temporary exhibition of 37 pieces on
the second floor.
For the blackboard paintings Fisher uses a faux blackboard for realistic painted vignettes. The
faint, chalk-like scribbled metaphorical marks appear erased and replaced with new
thoughts, not unlike memories emerging from the past. The early collages combine abstract
painting, text, and image. Room-sized installations were re-created by Fisher to fit the museum
space such as the canvas-cut birds stapled to the wall in “84 Sparrows,” grown to the size of
pigeons. The already large installation “Boat, Island, Ape,” an homage to King Kong, grew in
proportions along with added sound effects like the chirping of a knock-out punch, an
outdated telephone ring and the repetitive “It’s a Small World” to fill the space all around. In
the painting titled “Bikini,” a kitschy octopus at a miniature golf course is shadowed by an
immense but similarly shaped atomic explosion making an unusual connection between
images and text.
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Modern Art Museum-Fort Worth
3200 Darnell St Fort Worth, TX 76107-2872
817.738.9215
Open Tue-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 11am-5pm
www.mamfw.org
As is typical of an exhibit on this level, the signature artworks are either in the permanent
collection of the museum sponsoring the exhibit or loaned from private collections; in this
case in the United States and Europe. Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern,
organized the exhibit. The introductory essay in the catalog published by the University
of Texas Press is by Frances Colpitt, chair of art history at TCU in Fort Worth and the
foreword is by Ned Rifkin, director of Austin’s Blanton Museum.  Auping comments, this
show “will be a revealing look at a body of work that represents an especially interesting
moment in contemporary art history in the late 1970s and early 1980s—a time when
the legacies of Pop Art and Conceptual Art created a unique hybrid between painting
and installation, inspiring narratives derived from juxtapositions of language and
vernacular imagery.”
“Bikini,” 1987, acrylic on canvas, 11 ½’ x 18 ½’ collection of the
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, acquired 1995

: “Boat, Island, Ape,” 1991-2010, mixed media site specific installation with sound, dimensions variable.
“Private Africa,” 1995, oil on blackboard slating on wood, 92 7/8 x 93 9/16
inches, collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, acquired 1995.
Let’s get away from the analytical business to congratulate Vernon on his skill as a phenomenal
painter. No photographs, stencils or cut-outs for him – rather he paints everything himself, from
nuclear bombs exploding to Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Fisher’s biography shows his inclusion in more than 80 shows worldwide and his work in over 40
museum collections.  He has received the Guggenheim Scholarship and three National
Endowment for the Arts awards. In one year, 1981, he exhibited at the Guggenheim, in the
Whitney Biennial and at the Hirshhorn.  He held the position of professor of art at North Texas   
State University for 30 years.

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