Jackie Ferrara

Jackie Ferrara’s niche in the history of modern art has been built patiently and assiduously, piece by individual piece, much like her sculptures. Since the ’70s her art has been widely viewed as having humanized some of the cooler excesses of Minimalism. Ferrara’s wood sculptures, of imaginary and inventive architectural edifices and spaces, gesture toward craftsmanship and a kind of hard-won harmony. This traveling retrospective includes 70 sculptures, drawings, and models, many for public commissions, and is the most extensive Ferrara has yet received, providing a very rich and satisfying overview of her art since 1974.

Ferrara remains faithful to the gods of her earliest esthetic impulses. She continues to pursue her craft of logic and deliberation, beginning each piece with extensive preparatory drawings in which she works out a particular architectonic pattern and elevation, and ending with graph-paper scale drawings of great precision and detail. Then come Ferrara’s signature tiny slats of wood, sometimes numbering more than a thousand bits of pine or poplar in a single piece, each clearly and patiently cut and glued, stacked and layered, each playing its constituent role in her assemblage of order and clarity. This moment, the incredibly time-consuming, labored part of her craft, is clearly a joyful element of Ferrara’s work, the hands-on realization of her ideas coinciding with multiple episodes of small discoveries and pleasures. Its labor-intensive quality gives her sculptures their fiercely determined aura, while the process implied in such temporal commitment allows her objects to be both intensely personal and the bearers of clearly exposed mathematical thought. Within them, the very small congregates to posit the very big. While not precisely models for fantastic structures, Ferrara’s care and commitment turn her ruminations into certifiable dreams of tower, plaza, ziggurat, temple, pyramid, and home. The largely modular roots of her vision make her works appear infinitely extrapolable, capable of extension into massive—or minute—scale.

Space plays no small part in Ferrara’s work. In Extended Curve, Triple Curve Pyramid, 1975, the interstices she introduces between her woodwork give the piece a shady and mottled quality, a counter-rhythm of absence permeating its form that lends the piece openness, undercutting its potential for massiveness and impenetrability. Space makes the sculptures accessible, and, since 1982, Ferrara’s use of a delicate range of color, in wood stains, warms their brooding profile. The stepped idiosyncrasies of A 203 KAHV, 1979, with its four sequences of independent but interrelated facades, turn it into a harmonic microcosm of delight instead of a dark and distant tower. And therein rests Ferrara’s special gift—to temper the possibility of hieratic distance and aloofness in her forms with the omnipresent quality of her human touch, giving abstract concepts and attitudes a decidedly human profile, everywhere balancing, interweaving, and reconciling the extensions of what can be thought with what can be made.

James Yood