LOS ANGELES — Riffing on vaguely familiar iconography, Cayetano Ferrer’s sculptures induce an uncanny hesitation; suddenly you’re unsure of how well you know the places and things you pass by each day. Looking at each of Ferrer’s works is like waiting for a photograph to come into focus, or retelling an old story and making up bits for the parts you’ve forgotten. His exhibition Memory Screen at Commonwealth and Council at once made me think of a deceiving Rubens reproduction at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the imitation antique Chinese furniture I grew up with at home — leaving me nostalgic but empty, wondering how much authenticity matters in the things we remember and collect.
Laid on the floor, “Infill Loop” (2017) is a frame made of marble, machinable wax, resin, gelatin, and plaster parts. Each section carries a residual history of grime, scratches, or paint flecks on its surface, discrepancies that are subsequently cast and repeated. But not every material here translates the original marble detailing well: the wax renders the foliage nondescript, almost like a mound of spaghetti, and the resin introduces air bubbles. Ferrer shows us the limits of trying to replicate and remember artifacts — it’s a bit of a losing game.
“Gates of Hell Movie Set (1:5 Scale)” (2019) feels much more dramatic. Lit in an ambient red and blue, the sculpture swims with cast iconography: flowers, ropes, and jewels congeal on the facade, and the comically small doorway to the gate is made with strips of cornice detailing. Some parts are already cracked, revealing the chicken wire underneath. The gate’s imposing height gives it a real weight in the gallery, but it’s also not surprising when you walk around and realize it’s just a wall. (The Gardner museum doesn’t mention online that Rubens’s “Three Men in Profile” (1600-1608) is a high-res print either — maybe it hopes that by framing the image, its too-smooth paper will go unnoticed.)
Three alcoves set into the wall divide the gallery. All titled “Window” (2019), these pieces re-trace the lead cames and subsequent repair work on 16th-century stained glass windows. Formally, the replicate cames are a bit of a mess — they look like a series of bad Brice Mardens, and it’s clear where they’ve been pinched and molded. But that handmade quality is part of the charm, especially when you slowly begin to see certain images forming. A coat of arms and a hooded Mary — maybe I knew these images from the Presbyterian preschool I went to years ago. Coming to those first associations was strange, like re-reading an old annotated book and realizing you don’t think that way anymore. “Window” makes you wonder if getting older taints that awe of seeing something for the first time.
It’s hard to tell where exactly the pieces that make up “Mmry Scrn” (2019) come from, maybe the center portion of a yoke-back chair, a broken-off balustrade, or part of a cabinet door. The latticework and scalloped carving hint that the material might be Chinese, but it could just as easily be from a P.F. Chang’s. Traces of sawdust between poorly rendered bamboo leaves reveal that half the sculpture is machine-carved, and as if to save time, certain areas where individual found pieces are puzzled together are recarved as a glommed whole. Continuing the questions posed in “Window,” Ferrer asks how a culture crafts its identity visually — and how an American pastiche can flatten it with replication that ignores the details.
On my last visit home, I found that my parents had put our Chinese furniture in storage. They weren’t getting many visitors anymore, and the plastic covering made it uncomfortable to sit on, anyway. I don’t know if my parents really ever liked that set; they bought it when they immigrated here, a proud statement that didn’t say much about Taiwan but looked nice in the foyer.
Cayetano Ferrer: Memory Screen continues at Commonwealth and Council (3006 W 7th St #220, Koreatown, Los Angeles) through April 27.