For Release: February 2014
Tony Feher reveals the richness, complexity and impact of the work of an artist distinguished for poetic gestures that give meaning to mundane materials. This 25-year retrospective exhibition, organized by the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston and on view April 12 – August 17, 2014, features more than 50 carefully selected sculptures and wall pieces dating from 1987 through 2012. Feher is also creating new site-determined art works for the Akron Art Museum.
Tony Feher emphasizes the importance of seeing objects for what they are. His works are constructed from found objects that generally play a passing role in our lives. Feher collects many of his materials—bottles and jars, plastic bags, and polystyrene blocks—after they have been emptied and discarded. He typically lives among these components for an extended time before singling out individual items out for their formal qualities and expressive potential. In aligning, stacking or dangling common objects, Feher situates them in ways that encourage us to value their beauty or to simply see and appreciate things differently and anew.
An untitled honey jar filled with red marbles dating to 1987 is the earliest work in the exhibition and resulted from Feher spying a cluster of marbles in a toy store window in Greenwich Village. Admiring their color and luminosity, Feher immediately realized that he could express his intentions by combining objects as much as by manipulating paint or craft materials.
Feher finds the streets of New York a “material treasure trove.” His attention to items that most of us overlook is documented by the caps, wing nuts, washers and glass fragments that Feher carefully lined up to extend from three small milk bottles that serve as their containers. Likewise, Feher transformed colorful mop and broom handles culled from garbage heaps into lines of radiating light in Sharadiant, suggesting comparisons to the spokes of a Ferris wheel, among other associations.
Blaffer Director and Chief Curator Claudia Schmuckli comments “Tony Feher’s work stands out as an oddly optimistic ode to hope. Its power to move us lies in the artist’s desire to carve out moments of profound solace and quietude, to restore order and beauty where there is chaos and ugliness, and to celebrate the power of creativity as humanity’s most powerful weapon and achievement.”
In his stacked forms Feher “references architectural ideals from another time.” He speaks of La Roi de Baton as informed by Medieval reliquaries filled with rock crystal and sees his own jars filled with found objects as “reliquaries for discarded remnants of modern life.” Structures Feher assembles from plastic fruit baskets and crates, such as Mountain Home and Enjoy, are reminiscent ziggurats or historic urban monuments.
Feher’s diagnosis as HIV positive in 1989-90 motivated him to prioritize making work and many of the sculptures in the years that followed, such as Long Term Pillow or Penny Piece, to which the artist adds another coin for each year he survives, reference themes of mourning and mortality. His more recent sculptures, such as Blossom or a golden Mylar blanket tied with a binder clip, offer more joyous “bursts of color,” but also embody fragility and transience.
Feher’s use of found objects and exploration of series and geometric shapes reference Marcel Duchamp and Minimalist predecessors. However, his used of discarded materials and autobiographical allusions address fundamentally different concerns while proving influential upon a younger generation of artists seeking to document their own personal journeys.
This exhibition has been organized by the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston.
The presentation of Tony Feher at the Akron Art Museum is generously supported by the James L. and John S. Knight Foundation, Toby Devan Lewis and the Ohio Arts Council.
About the Artist
Tony Feher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1956 and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. He studied architectural history at The University of Texas and briefly worked for architects and a studio potter after his graduation. Feher subsequently moved to New York City, where he began painting and for awhile supported himself working for an art gallery. These experiences inform Feher’s understanding of space and how simple gestures, such as suspending jars filled with colored water, can elicit appreciation.