In Beverly Hills, you’ll find storefronts for major fashion houses, a glimpse of a celebrity, and now, a bright cube illuminating the street.

Towering 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, said cube is made of screens that depict moving images of recognizable food, objects and people, from chip bags to Coca-Cola bottles. On one side of the cube, viewers can see a TikTok of Charli D’Amelio promoting Dunkin’ Donuts while the other shows clips of the GEICO gecko cascading down.

The cube is part of a new exhibition presented by Gagosian art gallery across the street. Urs Fischer’s “Denominator,” on display until Sept. 16, displays fragments of international television commercials shifting across the screens. To create the cube, Fischer combined advertisements from 1950 to the present day, sorted and reinterpreted by artificial intelligence. The imagery reflects bits of history and memories that are unconsciously recognizable from years of media consumption.

“It’s a strange thing that advertisements are so omnipresent and it’s so influential for all of us,” Fischer says.

Fischer has long been interested in the impact of imagery on the subconscious. During his survey exhibition across MOCA Grand Avenue and the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in 2013, Fischer observed how artists assisting in his clay creations collectively had the same ideas of what objects looked like. He questioned what histories had potentially contributed to these collective subconscious memories.

A cube installation from the outside of the gallery space

Seen from outside the space, Urs Fischer’s “Denominator” is photographed at the Gagosian gallery in Beverly Hills on July 19, 2023.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Advertisers and marketers are primarily trying to sell products through these images. Inadvertently, they affect how people see the world, Fischer says. “In some way, you don’t own a lot of the imagery in your mind,” he says.

Fischer recalls that once, when he was in the Minneapolis airport, he passed by a vending machine. It had a large touchscreen display with images of the drinks inside moving and dancing in unison. To him, the imagery on screen was much more appealing than the stacked shelves behind the glass.

“I was fascinated,” he says. “I felt like that’s also what’s gonna happen to art. You just look at that shoe and it’s not that interesting, but the image of the shoe is great.”

He decided to put this advertising phenomenon to the test with “Denominator.” To create the piece, he and his studio team started collecting advertisements from across the globe using a VPN. They compiled all the imagery and clips of the commercials into a vector database, which stores and catalogs images and text. AI can then easily access it.

The AI algorithm and search function similarly to a Google image search. The advertisements within the installation are then deconstructed into a single shot, from a composite of images chosen at random. “If you have a commercial that has 10 shots, it just extracts that one shot that this thing applies to,” Fischer says.

The chosen imagery we see on the installation is based on a large language model (LLM), used in generative AI programs like ChatGPT. “Most of it is probably better described as machine learning because it just anticipates what comes next,” he says. “It doesn’t produce something on its own.”

Fischer says he is cognizant of concerns about AI encroaching on artists’ livelihoods but personally welcomes the medium in his practice as a tool. What keeps him secure in artists’ ability to not be replaced by AI is the authenticity of art and “the psyche of the maker,” as he puts it.

Although Fischer isn’t known for using AI technology in his work, it didn’t surprise Deborah McLeod, the director of Gagosian in Beverly Hills. “He dives in everywhere,” McLeod says. “This is not necessarily a new direction but it’s one of the things he does” — the other mediums including painting, sculpting and filmmaking.

McLeod saw “Denominator” when it was first presented at the Gagosian 24th Street in New York alongside “People” and “CHAOƧ #501.”

“I had the experience of wanting to look at something for a really long time, which I think must always be the goal of an artist — to hold you,” she says. “And this really rewarded the gaze.”

A close up of the art installation showing advertisements go from one plane to the next.

A corner detail of Urs Fischer’s “Denominator.”

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

McLeod wanted to bring “Denominator” to Los Angeles and display it in an eye-catching way. So the Gagosian team looked for short-term leases within a block of the gallery. Luckily, one was available right across the street.

The space is like a fishbowl, allowing people walking down North Camden Drive to see it. While Starpoint Property Management is developing its building, McLeod sought to temporarily rent out the ground floor for “Denominator.” Now, Fischer’s exhibition coincides with Honor Titus’ “Advantage In.” Outside of Gagosian’s temporary space, Fischer hopes to make the installation waterproof and eventually display it outdoors.

The cube art installation with advertisements displayed on the screens.

“Denominator” is 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Fischer once told McLeod that the piece is an abundance of images collapsed into one. “There’s so much information there that you don’t hold each image separately in your brain, but it does sort of collapse into a feeling,” she says.

Their hope is that while people pass by “Denominator” in Beverly Hills, their sights will turn from shops and restaurants to the world they’ve consumed through advertisements.

“It’s some form of a small possible way to summarize our collective dreams,” Fischer says.

‘Urs Fischer: Denominator’

Where: Gagosian Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills
When: July 20 to Sept. 16, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Cost: Free
Info: gagosian.com


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