Tony Feher

D'Amelio Terras, New York

Through December 23, 2009
by Katie Geha

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      Installation view: Tony Feher: Blossom, D'Amelio Terras, New York, NY. November 7 - December 23, 2009.

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      Ed Ruscha, an artist familiar with the theme of banality, once remarked, “Good art should elicit a response of ‘Huh? Wow!’ as opposed to ‘Wow! Huh?” These parameters can be instructive in judging a work of art. Does it elicit an initial punch? Does it linger or is it easily dismissed? Or does the work provoke a slight confusion or disorientation followed by a deeper understanding, a continued engagement? These questions are really about aftertaste—what kind of resonance, if any, does the work create?

      Former Texas artist Tony Feher, a master of making the banal beautiful, has a new installation at D’Amelio Terras in Chelsea. The exhibition features five large-scale sculptures made from 38-inch Owens-Corning polystyrene and placed directly on the gallery floor. The material is evident, manipulated only in the creation of the identical fan forms. Feher translates this everyday insulation foam into carefully crafted, almost origami-like blossoms of pink.

      Feher’s installation should be considered in relation to two other exhibitions currently on view in the New York area—Urs Fischer at the New Museum and Rachel Harrison at the Hessell at Bard College. Fischer and Harrison also use basic everyday items to create totems of sculpture. They display plastic toys glued together, rotting vegetables hung from the ceiling, or disassembled cardboard boxes piled high up the gallery wall. We could call this post-Duchampian, scatter art, a trash aesthetic. Whatever it is, it has been running rampant in the art world ever since the New Museum articulated the movement in 2008 with its building’s inaugural exhibition Unmonumental.

      That exhibition (which featured works by both Fischer and Harrison) heralded a trend so forceful that now galleries are filled with cultural detritus: the playthings that distract us from banality, while simultaneously entrenching us in that very same condition. The objects and images we used yesterday (cardboard, trash bags, tweety bird) are placed in a vitrine and treated as relics of our contemporary moment. Call it forced entropy. Yet, do these trashy sculptures make us more aware of our shared cultural malaise? Or is it, rather, a celebration of waste, the implied obsolescence of the object? Finally, and most pressing, what is the aftertaste? I feel unmoved––bored even, but perhaps that is the point.

      Feher was not included in Unmonumental and it is curious that he was not, given his propensity for collecting and organizing throwaway objects such as shards of broken glass or plastic bottles filled with colored water. But there is a quality to Feher’s work that is not shared by the work of many of the Unmonumental artists. Feher creates a sense of restraint and formal stability while still retaining a keen sense of play. There is an unabashed intelligence to his installations. He leaves nothing unconsidered; one senses that the folds of the pink polystyrene that make up the large fans are exactly where they should be. Feher’s everyday art is a careful art. Perhaps two years after the New Museum show, we can start to sift through this trend in sculpture and begin to discern the cast-off gems amidst the trash, the “Huh? Wows” from the “Wow! Huhs?”

      Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

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