New York

Jackie Ferrara

Michael Klein Inc.

In her most recent exhibition, “Wall-works & Tableworks,” Jackie Ferrara presented small-scale, rationalist wooden constructions. Built from layers of horizontal wooden slats, each of these seven works formed a pristine communal space that recalled traditional gathering places such as public baths and arenas.

Red Pool House 288, Grey Pool House 292, and Yellow Pool House 289 (all 1993) each consist of a succession of rooms arranged laterally along a thin horizontal plane. While the actual function of each chamber is not clear, each space evokes the various elements of a public bath—pool, sauna, hot tub, etc. Other works, like Linwood Balcony 281, 1992, Arena 284, 1992, and Red Sands 290, 1993, are more akin to public follies, overconstructed to the point of dysfunctional paralysis. In Linwood Balcony 281, for example, a long, thin, and awkwardly proportioned balcony is elevated above an equally awkward, almost inaccessible courtyard; such an inhospitable space seems to defy practical use.

While these table- and wallworks might be described as “models” or “maquettes,” such terms suggest that the sculptures are ultimately subordinate to a future full-scale public commission. Far from baiting federal or corporate funding, however, Ferrara’s works enable an interaction with the spectator that is as profound, if not more so, than that produced by their realization on a grander scale. On a larger scale, the works paradoxically become more objects of contemplation than examinations of the spectator’s relationship to space, calling into question their potential success as public sites.

With their modular, built-in benches and programmed walkways, they seem typical of the spaces found in corporate plazas, atriums, and shopping centers. Dependent on this tradition, they are particularly classicist in design and, therefore, highly rational in conception. Flat planes, right angles, and sharp edges have never been incorporated comfortably into environments for living. Ferrara’s wall- and tableworks raise the problem of the ineffectiveness of rationalist designs in actual human spaces. While many of these works are elegantly designed (the proportions in works like Yellow Pool House 289 or Red Pool House 288 are such that the height of a bench is the same as the height of four risers of a stairway), they fall into that centuries-old rationalist abyss of form over function. Not unlike Mies van der Rohe’s plazas for New York’s Seagram Building or Berlin’s New National Gallery, these works function best as memory theaters, recalling the utopian follies of rationalist design.

Kirby Gookin