New York

Herbert Ferber

Emmerich Gallery

It has seemed for the past several years that Herbert Ferber has been unable to free his sculpture from an absolutely debilitating kind of preciosity; his recent sculptures offer little to dispel this impression. Beyond this, however, my own feeling is that there is something profoundly contradictory in their status as sculpture, their physical configuration begging to be seen in a way with which it is simply impossible to comply. The contradiction is something which is prevalent in much of today’s sculpture and has to do with the fact that Ferber’s sculptures are as basically dependent on a figure-ground reading, as are, say, Kline’s paintings. In fact, when Ferber comes nearest to overtly acknowledging this dependence, as in his Circle and Calligraph III, he manages somewhat to redeem his sculpture. The elements in Circle and Calligraph III stay pretty much within one plane, so that the emphasized frontality of the piece enables one to read the curved linear shapes as existing frankly against a foil, and as a result the shapes and intervening spaces have some sort of positive coherence. Since Ferber’s structuring impulse is one which in essence seems to pertain to a two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional conception of forms in space, the kind of expressiveness he seeks is a galvanic one: the ability of linear forms to galvanize and give life to a given space. There is, however, something very barren in this kind of sculptural expressiveness, degenerating as it so easily does into a kind of illustration of the abstract properties of line, with all the attendant problems of the actual sculptural identity of this kind of expressiveness. Ferber’s sculpture sits helplessly, it seems to me, in a kind of expressive limbo. The very physical substance of his linear forms is deeply problematical, their cursive, galvanic qualities as pure lines which demand to be read against space, being constantly negated by the little embellishing fins, scar-like welds, and the obvious hollowness of the forms. When Ferber moves away from what basically amounts to an armature of forms whose relationships define a single plane, his sculpture runs into almost insoluble difficulties. Deprived of the concept of a foil against which his forms may be read, Ferber often turns to an extraordinarily inept and elementary definition of space, either looping and curving his forms back on themselves, or else resorting to a kind of hoop-like projection of circular intersecting rings, which presumably are intended to convey the sense of sculptural forms existing “in the round” as it were. The result in either case is a kind of arbitrariness and irresolution which is equally true of any aspect of Ferber’s sculpture that one chooses to analyze, whether it be the particular scale of each piece, or the reason why some pieces rest on little peg-legs while others sit directly on the ground or rest on some form of built-in support.

Jane Harrison Cone