Tony Feher, Pink Outside In, extruded styrofoam
If you've ever heard the old bit about the human body being made up of a whole lot of water and a few bucks worth of chemicals, then you have an operative metaphor for tapping into Tony Feher's recent work. There isn't much to it. Some bottles, some caps, some water. In fact, the fanciest stuff in this show, and likely the only stuff that the artist didn't score from a dumpster or have the pleasure of turning into art material through the sacrificial act of chugging its contents (lots of brown bottles around here if you know what I mean) are a few yards of rope, a few feet of wire, some Owens-Corning Polystyrene and (on a more exotic and pricey note) a bunch of marbles.
And just to make things consistent, Feher hasn't done much of anything to any of this stuff either. A little stacking, a little twisting, a little arranging. In fact, the only thing he did that was tougher than soaking the labels off all those bottles (whew) was probably the hard labor of cutting through two solid inches of foam.
A quick run-down of the show. "White Stack," a small stack of jars topped with a bottle. "Untitled (Something' Funky)," a cluster of various brown bottles ranging from 12oz to 40oz stood up on the floor and topped with bright yellow marbles like cherries on sundaes. "Untitled," a rope and wire vine extending from ceiling to floor and bearing fruit in the form of emptied Orangina bottles dangling from it like old-style Chianti flasks on a beanstalk. "Red Hot Summer Line," a row of emptied Coke bottles filled partially with water and then re-capped. "Pink Outside In" a mini-fortress built in the corner from bricks of Polystyrene in the exact color of the Pink Panther's belly.
All of this, or what little there is, leaves me in an awkward spot with Feher's work, which is troublingly ungratuitous. He didn't spend a lot of money buying fancy things to plop in the gallery or having slick stuff fabricated, he didn't work hard, and he exhibits no traces of technical skill. And he wants us to like this stuff. But he gives us no easy reason to do so--no points for style or A for effort. And all of this, or what little there is, is precisely why I find this work so engaging.
The temptation is to look at this work in the vein of Duchampian ready-mades, but Feher, lacking both the context and the opportunity for posturing that allowed Duchamp his day in court, seems hardly about the artistic iconoclasm to which Duchamp is often reduced. What Feher however does have in common with Duchamp, as well as a handful of other sculptors including Marcel Broodthaers and Richard Tuttle, is an awareness that what he presents will hold its place and stand its time in the gallery, enter the discourse of art, and suffer or enjoy the various reactions of viewers, no matter how stand-offish or user-friendly it might appear. This isn't a matter of game playing or cynicism. In fact, it's all rather frank and open, and has to do with a simple understanding that meaning in art is at least as much applied as implied, as tangential as it is implicit.
Nor is this a way of looking at working that lends itself to arbitrary maneuvers. Feher's work is as deliberate as the next. It just doesn't bother with wearing it's heart, brain or resume on it's sleeve so we can feel comfortable in our guesses as to why we're spending time looking at it. Feher lets that be our problem. He gets us back to the possibility that art can be enigmatic (since it is anyway) and he does so without getting hokey on us.
It's a good thing Feher isn't God. If he was, our buckets of H2O and bargain-basement chemicals probably never would have amounted to much more than some funky toxic scum in a puddle before the artist decided we were a finished work and went off to see what he could do with some sand on Mars. Of course, we probably would have been a lot more interesting.
Los Angeles, California