New York

Rafael Ferrer

Rafael Ferrer’s show proved how hopeless it is to experience certain kinds of art within the modern gallery space. That space, even though it is blank and empty, can be a distraction if it is in direct opposition to the spirit of its contents. Ferrer usually disturbs the “white cube” by turning the whole room into an environment where every element derives its meaning from its place within the total ensemble. Any material can be made to work: neon, twigs, paintings, canoes—as long as the basic antagonism between work and space is obliterated. And Ferrer has often been quite successful at overcoming that antagonism.

The problem with this particular show is that the works don’t cohere as a unit; they maintain solitary positions. Hanging above eye level from the ceiling and extending down to the floor, the only access to the large works’ insides was through small window openings. This left us with the surfaces alone—which is not to say that they are not very beautiful surfaces. Sudan and Luna are particularly absorbing, with their batiked, sprayed, sewn and written-upon outsides. But I really wanted to get “inside” one, or have them interact in some way. The largest work, resembling an Arabian tent, seemed at first to be penetrable. Its opening, near to the floor, exposed a small corridor. But the corridor went nowhere, and the room and the inside were so dark that nothing could be observed. What appeared to be a very inviting environment becomes distanced and detached. Craft and decoration, so central to Ferrer’s work, tease the viewer with sensuous surfaces that preserve an unknowable privacy. Usually he can turn these materials into magnets of metaphorical and even political implication so that they open up to us, not close us out.

The same complaint could be lodged against some of the drawings: maps that have been covered over with crayons. Ferrer’s usual method is to fill in the map with patternlike, coloring-book markings. One map clearly left Cuba in view, and it was nice; but in another, he got carried away with the covering-over process. Once again, the surface gets in the way of any kind of inner meaning,and the drawing’s conventional space levels the metaphorical meaning. If there were any potential political statement underneath the submerged drawing, the camouflaging was too dense for the comment to carry.

Jeff Perrone