In the Studio: Tony Feher Turns Things into Art

I found my way to Tony Feher’s large studio in the Bronx thanks to a spring 2012 email saying that a twenty-year survey Tony Feher (pronounced “fair”) was opening at the Des Moines Art Center and would  be on the road for two years. Curated by Claudia Schmuckli, its second venue, opening October 11th, will inaugurate the University of Houston’s newly renovated Blaffer Art Museum. It then travels to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum near Boston and opens at its last venue, the Bronx Museum for the Arts, in October, 2013. A gorgeous 266- page companion monograph designed by Takaaki Matsumotto was published for the exhibition by Gregory R. Miller & Company.  Matsumotto’s elegant yet spare design using many full page and 2-page color images reinforces Feher’s minimalist aesthetic.

Untitled, Tony Feher
Courtesy of Keith Petersen

Tony doesn’t mention that he is being honored on September 27, 2012 at the annual Socrates Sculpture Park benefit nor does he note his solo show — which opened September 13th  at the Anthony Meier Gallery in San Francisco. Instead, he lightly turns a few strands of an installation of colored glass goblets attached to chains hanging from the ceiling so that I can hear the bell-like sounds the glass objects make as he jiggles their chains. When I receive images of the chained forms casting  jewel-toned lights from a bank of windows at the Meier Gallery, I remember their sounds and appreciate the way the artist directed my attention to the qualities of the objects themselves. The exhibition also features looping strands of black, blue, and orange PVC tubing that I saw in the studio; these suggest Native American necklaces or ceremonial hangings.  Feher’s sculptures are all untitled and use everyday objects such as these to “talk” about the ways art can be created from things we may overlook in life and the ways that unspoken issues affect us all.

Tony shows me computer images of his GSA U.S. Courthouse commission titled Super Special Happy Place; its site in front of the Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford Illinois seems to be the size of two football fields.  When invited to submit a proposal, Feher considered the program of the building and chose an outdoor rather than an indoor location. Five varieties of over 100 crab apple trees are planted in a linear grid with a pattern of overlapping diamonds superimposed like that of a Persian carpet. Each tree variety has different color and form characteristics, including weepers, verticals and multi-stem. No tree will grow more than 25 feet in any direction. Adding humor and beauty to a courthouse entrance seems empathic.

Here Comes the Ponies, Tony Feher.
Photo by Jan Garden Castro

As we walked through the studio’s distinct areas of collected objects, Feher told me, “I’m not a sculptor or a painter; I make art. I’ve always liked the pared downness, the line, the critical consideration of minimalism. I also like Quattrocento Italian painting before perspective ruined everything. I install my exhibitions with the same spatial qualities as an early Renaissance painting, or so I say. My art is not about anything – not illustrating a point. I’m creating situations that people may read in a variety of scenarios. Each work can become many things. It’s not specific. It’s a modernist trope of reduction. They take on their own unique identities.”

The studio underwent a makeover in Aug of 2011. Feher put in an insulated ceiling to eliminate sound traveling between spaces as well as a plywood deck floor. Some areas house past and future works of art. The most formal piece in the space consists of four shelves at different levels holding precise arrangements of glass and plastic objects, some containing liquid and some not. Each shelf shows a different balance of form and color. Hues are derived from a specific palette of green, yellow, blue and red. Nearby are the “Navajo Necklaces” made of  PVC pipe, the colored glass on chains, and groups of plastic bottles hanging together in concise arrangements. In another area of the studio, a Lazy Susan of sorts consists of a spinning bicycle wheel holding little ponies dangling by their tails. The entire contraption uses many colored jumbo detergent jugs skewered on a pole with the wheel set on top. In another piece, the artist turns ordinary painters’ masking tape into a striking statement. Pieces of the tape, half attached to the wall make a distinctive form that could be seen as a giant’s thumbprint, a colony of blue bites, an aerial view of dwellings or a consideration of space, time and matter.

Tony Feher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a Navy family that lived in seven locations in 10 years. He received a B.A from the University of Texas in 1978; Tony moved to New York City in 1981 after coming to the realization that he was indeed an artist. Over the years, he worked for galleries and artists including Max Protetch, Paula Cooper, Scott Burton and Jennifer Bartlett. Despite some difficult periods and financial hardship, Feher’s talents were recognized in solo and group shows, finally winning wider recognition with a breakout exhibition at D’Amelio Terras in 1997. Since then, museums have been acquiring his work for their collections. Commissions and opportunities keep coming his way.  Tony Feher images are on the web; he is represented by the Pace Gallery.

By Jan Garden Castro

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