Tony Feher died earlier this year, so “It Didn’t Turn Out the Way I Expected” is not only a debut of a new body of work but also a memorial. It feels restrained in comparison to his retrospective exhibition, which first opened in Des Moines in 2012 and came to the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 2014, and amply featured Feher’s light touch with the clutter of everyday life; he animated old jars and boxes with splashes of color—whether dyed water, paint, or pebbles—in varying quantities and intensities that danced across the gatherings of detritus. At Sikkema Jenkins, that direction of his work is represented in over seven hundred drawings on graph paper or whatever other surface was handy—napkins, placemats—where he sketched out his ideas for installations. Encased in plastic covers and hung in grids, the selections from Feher’s archive look almost like one of his works: a collection of delicate things that gain a subtle force through their accumulation. Each of his last paintings, by contrast, has a solitary stability. He made them by affixing shells of mussels and clams to canvases and coating them with monochromatic layers of paint. It’s as if he was exerting control over fragments of the natural world, rather than seeking out spontaneous order in the man-made one. There’s less of the suggestion of fragility that animated those earlier installations. And yet the shells are open, as if to reveal something tender.
Pictured: Tony Feher: It didn’t turn out the way I expected (Cerulean Blue), 2010-16, oil paint, mussel and cockle shells on plywood, 15 by 28 by 2 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins, New York. Photo Jason Wyche.