Artpace, San Antonio
Through April 29
by Wendy Atwell
Mysteriously named after the former director of the Met who helped invent blockbuster exhibitions while sourcing the black market for acquisitions, Tony Feher’s exhibition Thomas Hoving could be from an episode of a reality T.V. show challenging an artist to transform a space on a cheap budget with as few materials as possible. In his installation at Artpace’s Hudson (Show)Room, Feher covers a selection of glass windowpanes with blue Scotch brand painter’s tape in precise grids, crosshatched and starburst patterns. Fluorescent colored polypropylene string hangs in beautiful arrays from the ceiling, creating what seems like a fifth dimension. Beads made from cut-up sections of PEC and PVC tubing are strung and grouped together on nylon cords. A cluster of three different plastic PEC drinking bottles, filled with blue, orange and fluorescent yellow colored water, glistens near a window.
The orange and blue pipe beads hang like a display of giant necklaces against a wall. An unexpected beauty and complexity comes from these Home Depot materials that Feher metes out with control and economy. Feher’s austerity is a rare and valuable asset amidst our current quagmire of material and informational abundance. His work creates a space that inspires the viewer to pay attention to presence and perception. Though we are post-Minimalism and post California Light and Space, Feher’s installation calls to mind elements from both of these eras. In the middle of the room, the colored string hangs in an upside down concentric semi-circle, as if the lines from a Frank Stella painting, c. 1967, had escaped into free space.
Though many contemporary installation artists incorporate everyday objects into their work, Feher’s application differs from, for example, the brilliantly ordered mayhem of Jessica Stockholder. His precision is lifted out of chaos into a distinctly other realm, more in keeping with the clear, geometrical drawing directives of Sol Lewitt.
However, like much contemporary installation art, Thomas Hoving deceivingly appears “high” with materials sourced from “low.” The guiding rule appears to be formalism, and, as with Stockholder, Feher sources whatever he needs to achieve his vision. Feher’s work seems less about the material itself than the transformation of the space that it conspires to achieve. Donald Judd admired the “independent color” of Yves Klein’s paintings that Feher’s blue tape recalls. Though far from the decadently rich and soft pigment used by Klein, the tape glows in the same hue.1 Feher’s is an honest media, true to its time, and, in its configuration, it performs the miracle of tapping everyday objects to make art historical connections. One can’t help but recall Judd’s theory of specific objects: a non European look, unmodulated color, three dimensions, new materials and "singleness," defined as “work that isolated a single element, such as color or texture or a new material.” Feher’s materials are a world away from Judd’s expensively fabricated fluorescent Plexiglas, polished brass and anodized aluminum. Fifty years later, Feher’s installation utilizes Judd’s ideas, while extending out into the notion of the ready-made. How does one consider “singleness” when the room itself becomes the object? Maybe, to borrow from Thomas Hoving’s lively parlance regarding his approach as museum director, it’s whatever makes “the mummies dance.”
Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She is the author of The River Spectacular: Light, Color, Sound and Craft on the San Antonio River.
1. All references to Donald Judd are taken from Leider, Philip. “Perfect Unlikeness,” in Artforum, February 2000.