Jeffrey Schiff

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

An exhibition long overdue in Boston, Six Sculptors reflected various modes of sculpture-making, running the gamut of current idioms from free-standing objects and wall reliefs to architectonic constructions and ephemeral installations.

The most visually exciting piece in the exhibition was that of JEFFREY SCHIFF. Like Rothfarb, Schiff created his own space but with more ephemeral means—he made no objects, he built no structures. In one sense, the space Schiff used was given as he chose to rework part of the remodeled interior of the institute’s 19th-century building. His chosen area, the main staircase leading to the second floor where the rest of the exhibition was held, is not a very well defined space. It is really a large, open, multisided well cutting between floors. Several turns, a landing, open and closed bannisters and the fact that all second floor galleries open onto the well make the space confusing and incoherent. Schiff brings to this awkward architecture a rational clarity—in an unexpected way, by hand rubbing graphite in a predetermined pattern around the case. Schiff demarcates a cylinder centered on an extant structural column. As a simple, strong vertical rising through the amorphous well, the column provides the pinion on which the rest of Schiff’s conception revolves. All the architecture that falls within his cylindrical boundary—walls, floors, overhead exposed steel beams, bannisters, etc.—is covered with the dark powder.

At no single point do Schiff’s shadowed walls resolve completely, but they frame voids, reveal connections between spaces and even pick out various nuances of proportion and detail usually hidden by the homogeneity of white gallery walls. Schiff plays with the space. He wrests it out of its doldrums and gives it back to his audience as his own. With the most evanescent means, Schiff provides an experience spatially startling and visually sensitive.

Ronald J. Onorato