Vernon Fisher's work, currently on view in Vernon Fisher: K-Mart Conceptualism, is often noted for its allusive quality.
In his paintings and sculpture, Fisher includes subtle visual connections between art, science, and history; repetition of form; and perhaps most of all, evidence of his command of literature and writing in his use of text.
Through many tours of the galleries, I became intrigued with the sculpture Poison Tree (1991). In it, a cast-bronze tree branch is brittle and leafless, perhaps dead. Attached to these desolate branches are small rectangular sheets of thin metal, each punched through with text. Written in German, the words and phrases climb sparely up the tree limb.
Unusually for Fisher, the piece includes text written not by the artist himself, but by the German romantic poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Even long after his death in 1832, Goethe is still celebrated today as perhaps the most important figure of German Romanticism and a literary great.
For Poison Tree, Fisher uses the short poem "Wanderer's Night Song", a piece well-known to German schoolchildren. It is short, lyrical, profound, and easy to memorize.
I began to wonder what this sculpture sounds like. Not a speaker of the German language, I asked one of our docents, Asta McCarthy, who was born in Germany, to recite the poem for me and started a conversation with her about Fisher, Goethe, Germany, death, trees, rest, and many other things.
I invite you to listen in by clicking the video above.