I was once in the house of some very wealthy people (OK, some billionaires), and the French curator of their furniture collection was showing me how a sheet of marble can be folded, with 45-degree cuts, to create the impression of a solid block. He told me that he was surprised how easy it was in Los Angeles to find the craftsmen skilled enough to achieve such seamless illusion.
Cayetano Ferrer has an alternative technique for augmenting nature: he uses Photoshop. Four Quarry Composites are installed halfway through his exhibition Composite Arcade at the new LA gallery Château Shatto. Each oblong monolith, supported on a steel stand, incorporates broken pieces of marble reportedly salvaged from hotels and casinos. Through a laborious process of digital reconstruction, Ferrer fills in their missing parts with printed PVC to make perfect marble rectangles, the hybrid slabs ending up more fantasy than fact.
Ferrer’s attention to detail makes these appealing material koans. Where the original marble is scratched or stained, he digitally scratches or stains his synthetic PVC extensions to match. In Quarry Composite Wall Plate (all works 2014) he consolidates two separate pieces of marble – which, for all I know, may not even be the same kind of rock – within the same PVC panel. Marble is, of course, itself an amalgam, as advertised by its veined and fissured patterning.
Ferrer pulls off a related trick in Fragment with Infill, in which he replicates not marble but a chunk from an art deco frieze, modelling its (conjectured) continuation in brown plaster. When Ferrer’s source material is not millennia-old rock but modern design tropes, the mind begins to swim. Thin plaster tiles, some of them broken, are shuffled around the front of the gallery by the staff each morning, or left in stacks. Chimaera Tile lays arabesques over Moorish star-shapes, Mayan zigzags and triangles, Egyptian spirals and so on. Frank Lloyd Wright’s tiled Ennis House never seems far from view, but neither do the casino interiors of the Las Vegas strip. The most dominant work in the gallery, the floor-to-ceiling Infinite Screen Wall (Vertical Section), is no denser with ideas than the smallest, Fragment with Infill; its scale, however, allows its tawdriness – each brick is carved from polystyrene – to show through.
Ferrer is a master of what people not involved in art often call ‘art direction’; he uses coloured lights, for instance, to mask the ordinariness of his media, and to create drama where there may not be any real action. This eagerness to please may be part of his critique; the atmosphere of paranoia and desperation in a casino, for instance, would be unbearable without the distractions of colour, noise and alcohol. (Could the same be true of an art gallery?) The first time I saw Composite Arcade was after dark; in daylight, it was a much less sanguine viewing experience – and all the more intelligent for it.
The installation Endless Columns – the show’s climax, at the furthest end of the ‘arcade’ – is untroubled by daylight. A mirrored room, sealed by a black curtain, reflects a Mayan-style column at its centre, which lights up sequentially in projected rainbow colours. Repeating columns disappear in all directions, but as they get further away, the wobbles in the mirrors exponentially increase and space becomes unstable. The listed media for the installation reveal that the bottom tier of the endless column is an ashtray from the MGM casino. That nugget of information feels like the realest part of the exhibition, the rock around which everything else was formed.
This article was first published in the December 2014 issue.