New York

Tony Feher

D'Amelio Gallery

So unassuming as to be almost beyond notice, Tony Feher’s show at one of Chelsea’s less spectacularly frosty galleries was actually brimming with small-scale, subtle pleasures. The central piece, initially glimpsed through the gallery window and resembling more than anything else an average-looking chunk of carved marble squatting on the floor, turned out to be merely several stacked Styrofoam forms of the sort used to pack TVs, stereos, and such, like a cheeky, no-budget take on Rachel Whiteread. Another piece consisted of eighteen unlabeled tin cans and eighteen small blocks of wood, arranged on the floor in a square made up of circles and dashes. A closer look showed how the tree rings in the wood blocks, coated in silver paint, mimicked the rings on the can lids: nature aspiring to the uniformity of mass production.

Though Feher plays with some tenets of Minimalism, his work doesn’t reside in that movement’s remote, frigid kingdom. In fact, unlike Judd’s stainless-steel boxes or Andre’s bricks, Feher’s sculptures are very much of this world. He seems particularly taken with the small markings of plastic soda bottles, jars, and lids. The bottles in Blue Rise, 1995, Red Hot Summer Line, 1997, and other works were sculptural, to be sure, but not pristine. They had serial numbers printed in black or red dots, and bits of glue from where the labels were removed; condensation had gathered in some. Looking at a collection of fifteen glass containers capped with marbles sitting on a rickety table (Untitled, 1997), you couldn’t help but compare the mottled pattern of an Orangina bottle with that of Tropicana orange juice.

Works made from other materials had a similar, aw-shucks restraint. Most sat on the floor or on shelves made from plywood and L-brackets (and not even a full coat of white paint), as if the art didn’t want to pretend to be anything more than it was by perching on pedestals or fitting in too seamlessly with the gallery architecture. In High Low, 1997, the rivulets in a remnant of dull brown “sculpted” carpet, some of which were filled in with marbles as if they were pieces in a bored kid’s Sunday afternoon game, brought to mind an overhead view of rivers or winding roads. There was a lush preciousness, relatively speaking, to Long Term Pillow, 1997, a bulging chunk of cement (presumably molded in a cardboard box) embedded with plastic flowers.

Feher has a Minimalist’s fondness for the machine-made, but it’s a fondness for the machine’s humble, everyday goods rather than formally pure stainless steel or exotically tinted Plexiglas. His sculptures can’t help but touch a human nerve, if only because they’re made from our castoffs—someone, after all, drank all that seltzer and dunked his chips into those salsa jars. This idea was most apparent in the show’s pièce de résistance, Crawl (House for a Green Bird), 1996–97, an agglomeration of flotsam and jetsam including still more bottles and jars, paper coffee cups, small change, and a few tree branches. The used lottery tickets, daily horoscopes, and especially the photo-booth-strip pictures of Feher made this a kind of portrait of the artist’s daily life.

Despite the abundance of packaging and containers, Feher’s work is not a critique of American excess; it’s more about making the mundane strive for the ethereal. Such a seemingly casual and engaging revamping of Minimalism fits in well with the current fashion for inconspicuous consumption.

Julie Caniglia