Artist Urs Fischer Transforms Collector Dasha Zhukova Into a Giant Wax Candle - Then Burns Her to the Ground

The Swiss artist sculpted the Russian arts patron into his latest wax figure.

At Gagosian’s Davies Street gallery in London, the Swiss artist presents the latest iteration in his series of wax-cast art-world figures. This time, a life-size figure in the form of the Russian collector and Garage Museum founder Dasha Zhukova is seated in a chair and clad in a pink dress—that is, until she melts into wax drippings like a giant candle. At the start of the show on Monday, a wick on the top of the Zhukova figure’s head was lit; it will slowly burn the sculpture down over the course of the exhibition.

The wax figure series is a cheeky play on the transience of human existence and the impermanence of art, challenging the assertion of Greek physician Hippocrates that art is long, life is short (Ars longa, vita brevis). In Fischer’s world, it seems, both are short. Whether you agree or not, it’s undeniably fun to watch art-world heavyweights slowly burn to the ground. Some of Fischer’s “victims” have also included artist Julian Schnabel, artist Rudolf Stingel, and dealer Bruno Bischofsberger.

The famously tempestuous relationship between the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and her long-term mentor, and later husband, Diego Rivera is another example of such an artistic exchange between a couple. They married in 1929, when Kahlo was 22 and Rivera was 42, and their subsequent relationship involved miscarriage, mutual infidelity, divorce, remarriage, and a fantastic amount of artwork. Rivera was the driving force behind much of Kahlo’s work. In her painting ‘Frida and Diego Rivera’ (1931), Kahlo depicts them standing together, holding hands: her gazing into the distance and Rivera holding a palette with brushes in his other hand. The fact that he is holding these tools, symbols of his status as an artist, shows her deference to him as the maestro (despite the fact that she has produced this painting herself); she is diminutive, her feet unnaturally small, beside his robust and bulky frame. This immediately prompts.

Sylvia Sleigh, The Turkish Bath, 1973

Not all female artists were so quiescent; the prominent female artist Sylvia Sleigh actively sought to subvert this prevailing gender dynamic of male artist and female model. As an important part of the New York feminist art scene in the 1960s and '70s, Sleigh was known for her explicit and frequent depictions of male nudes. In 1973, she painted ‘The Turkish Bath’, a reimagining of Jean Auguste Dominique-Ingres’ 1862 painting of the same title, which depicted nude men in place of women. Sleigh’s models for the painting were contemporary art critics, including her second husband, British art critic and curator Lawrence Alloway. In an interview she was quoted as saying, “I wanted to give my perspective, portraying both sexes with dignity and humanism. It was very necessary to do this because women had often been painted as objects of desire in humiliating poses. I don’t mind the ‘desire’ part, it’s the ‘object’ that’s not very nice.” Not only did Sleigh challenge these gender roles through her work but she also successfully asserted her place within the then heavily male-dominated art world.