by Erica Varlese
Next to a GNC, a Duane Reade, and a busy New York hotel, a colorful wonderland inhales and exhales in a storefront window Mid-town. The “wonderland” is Anne Ferrer’s latest installation, Billowing Beauty, on view at The LAB, a midtown art gallery that specializes in “outrospectives.” The Paris-based artist works in fabric and air, so to speak. Using brightly colored textiles, she crafts oddly shaped creatures or objects that are then inflated by fans, creating a living choreography in her sculpture-esque work.
Ferrer was born in the Catalan region of France, studied in the United States, and lives and works in Paris. She says her work is that of a frustrated painter and frustrated sculptor—one who wants painting and sculpture to collide. To alleviate her aesthetic conundrum, she uses bright colors and movement in her three-dimensional installations. Billowing Beauty consists of five different modules, each of which is striped in either pink, white, yellow, green, or orange. The swirled effect of the fabric is reminiscent of candy canes and exudes a Willy-Wonka-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland type feel.
The movement of each module is independent of all the others, making it appear like the objects are conversing with, and interacting with one another in their self-sustained world. There is no room for human activity in this enclosed space. The contrast from the inner world of the gallery to the street life outside makes the exhibit appear even more magical. It is nearly impossible to not have the triad of the gallery, the viewer, and the city interact with one another in a way that makes each viewing experience entirely unique. The time of day, the sounds of traffic, and the serendipitous passing of strangers on the sidewalk are all variables in the viewing experience.
Los Angeles-based composer, Carol Worthey wrote music specifically for this piece, adding to this live ballet. Unfortunately, the custom tune is mostly drowned out by the sounds of the street. The music, however, is a buoyant and childlike song that incorporates a mixture of classical and jazz styles. The soundtrack perfectly matches the whimsical and saccharine image of the modules as they billow up and down, living and breathing like actors in a film, or dancers on a stage.
In the case of Billowing Beauty, the content and medium of the work is just as significant as the location. The LAB, located on the corner of 47th Street and Lexington Avenue, is a storefront turned art gallery. Visitors do not enter the gallery, but merely observe the work from outside, fully capitalizing on nearby foot traffic. With this show, The LAB presents a somewhat Dadaist concept of disrupting the habits of daily life by inserting beautiful, and free, artwork in what is typically viewed as a capitalist space. The compilation of a busy, metropolitan street and ground-floor businesses surrounding the gallery make it stand out as a sanctuary of pure aesthetics. You do not need to give, but only receive, to enjoy the beauty of such spontaneous artwork.
The concept of Billowing Beauty would be just as interesting if visitors were able to walk through Ferrer’s handcrafted landscape. Regardless of the various potentials of this sculpture garden that fits into a suitcase, the combination of installation, soundscapes, location, and outrospectives signify a fascinating and radical future of art. Such an exhibit, one that is both free to the public and a whimsical disruption of commercial activity, is a crucial breath of fresh air to the often profit-driven art field. It is more than just a billowing beauty, confined to the limits of The LAB, but a billowing Beauty that expands beyond the whimsical world of Ferrer and into the imaginations of all who view it. Just as Paris is a moveable feast, Billowing Beauty is a reminder of the whimsy of childhood, portable in a suitcase.