San Francisco

Herbert Ferber

San Francisco Museum of Art

From the size of this exhibition, the enormous cost of transporting and setting up the large number of works shown, as well as the lavish sixty-four page catalog, with its omniscient introduction by Wayne Andersen of the Walker Art Center, one would naturally expect to be viewing the work of a major and important contributor to the twentieth-century sculptural idiom, at least equivalent in inventiveness and performance to such artists as David Smith, Henry Moore and Giacometti. Add to this Ferber’s reputation for high intelligence and upright humanism, his friendship with some of the best artistic minds in America, plus high acclaim by some of the most important critics, and it is something of a shock to examine the works and be forced to the conclusion that he is at best only a second rate sculptor whose work is often dull. Consistently, and throughout Ferber’s work, is a single unitary theme—caricature, that is, grotesque representation by overemphasis of characteristic traits rather than any fine and deep sculptural touch. In a word, his work is totally lacking in nobility.

It would seem but for abstract expressionism, primarily a painterly concept, Ferber would have remained, like many other sculptors in America, hanging onto the coat-tails of Moore, Zadkine and other Europeans. By grafting this most powerful and revolutionary vista of the paint act onto sculpture, an essentially fake and non sculptural contemporaneousness appears and Ferber’s sculpture reeks of it. He is also well known for his much publicized and massive “sculpture as an environment,” which is discussed not only at length but with impressive claims in the catalog, proclaiming Ferber as an innovator who is complimentary to both Frank Lloyd Wright and Kiesler. On examination, the sculpture on which the claim is based proves to be very little different in its space concept, to that of a dead and sawn-off tree, imbedded in an apron of concrete and surrounded by the cage of the monkeys in the zoo.

John Coplans