Chaos, Control


Claudia Schmuckli, Russell Ferguson, Tony Feher
Tony Feher
(Gregory R. Miller and Co., 2012)

Jars filled with water, bottles suspended from the ceiling by rope, stacks of plastic milk crates: a delicate balance of chaos and choreography has been the hallmark of Tony Feher’s sculptural practice for over 30 years. This first comprehensive survey of the 56-year-old artist’s work in various media brings to life Feher’s archeology of the everyday, in all its poetic, barely-there glory; and deepens our appreciation of his continuing influence on other artists working today, from Charles LeDray to Sarah Sze. 

In this monograph’s opening essay, Claudia Schmuckli, director of the University of Houston’s Blaffer Gallery which organized the exhibition, ably situates Feher’s work in the context of Minimalist strategies—seriality, symmetry, and geometric forms—while letting the artist speak for himself about his process: “I accumulate items, some quite intentionally, and some rather haphazardly. I uncover and sort through. Out of chaos can come a refined and specific assessment.” Curator Russell Ferguson’s companion essay delves further into how Feher’s sensitive scavenging plays out in the artist’s well-known public commissions and site-specific installations. But the small-scale photographs accompanying the opening texts feel like thumbnails compared with the full-page illustrations that follow.

Capturing in two dimensions what the artist deploys in three is a challenge the book tackles head on. Takaaki Matsumoto, designer of the Lichtenstein and Mapplethorpe catalogs for the Guggenheim, worked closely with Feher in the sequencing and presentation of plates; they highlight the artist’s ever-expanding repertoire of materials, and the evolution of his conceptual thinking. Beginning with an early, iconic piece from 1987, “Untitled,”—a single glass jar filled with cherry-colored marbles, Matsumoto unscrews the lid on Feher’s busy backyard of the imagination; out pours crumpled mylar, flattened cans, tacks, wire, and tape.  Sure, you’ve seen all this stuff before, but not quite like this. High-resolution, color-saturated photography render these humble objects in all their specificity and personality, revealing inherent aesthetic qualities. Since when has a two-inch, turquoise metal jar lid looked so awesome and gorgeous? 

Matsumoto also understands that you don’t so much “see” a Feher exhibit as inhabit it.  Full-bleed reproductions of the larger sculptures allow the eye to wander as if encountering the work in situ. Particularly successful are the two-page spreads of Feher’s recent vinyl-tube sculptures and the well-known “water line” pieces, in which the liquid contained inside partially-filled jars undulates across the page like a wave. The exquisite reproduction of individual works makes one long for equally detailed installation shots to convey how Feher—who first trained as an architect—mines every inch of gallery space to activate the setting and bring his art objects to life. To experience the full Tony Feher effect, you’ll have to wait until his exhibit arrives at the Bronx Museum in October 2013. Until then, there’s Tony Feher, the next best thing.

Contributor

Bernard Lumpkin

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