New York

Raphael Ferrer

The Museum Of Modern Art; Nancy Hoffman Gallery

For one thing, the Surreal is strident in Raphael Ferrer’s work as far as I can see. Ferrer’s measuring devices, which can measure things only in their own terms rather than in categories interchangeable with those of any other system, engage in a frustration of the utilitarian quite central to Surrealism. And, its resurrection by Ferrer has a precedent in Robert Morris’ collection of unequal yardsticks. Taken as a whole, Ferrer’s work seems to enunciate an indirect association with Surrealism inasmuch as it recreates the primitive to place it in a gallery. The preconscious is provisionally summoned up in order that it may share the space of the explicitly conscious—the overtly literate—and thereby subvert it in the interests of a new synthesis. Ferrer seems to want to remind us of Lévi-Strauss’ assertion that any society may be as complex as any other, and that in this sense a traditional historical assumption—that sophistication is the product of a constantly developing technology—does not, in fact, apply. The point is well taken, but its direction isn’t clear. As others have remarked, an appeal to ahistorical universals, such as Lévi-Strauss’, tends to make accounting for historical—evolutionary, morphological—change difficult. In that sense structuralism—for some people, of whom I’m one—constantly threatens to become a new classicism, a version of Cartesianism as prone to mystification as the determinism to which it’s opposed. That’s the problem I have with Ferrer’s work, which looks like this continent’s answer to Joseph Beuys.

Like Beuys, Ferrer approaches the present through the primeval; there is, in effect, little difference between a coyote and a canoe when they’re both in a gallery. He mounts what is implicitly a cultural critique of the present (geo-political system) by that which it has dispossessed. What probably confirms and defines their importance is Beuys’ and Ferrer’s popularity in universities. Both match, in their evocation of the anthropological, the ideological fuzziness characteristic of—and, perhaps, necessary to—advanced education here and in Europe.

––Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe