Herbert Ferber | Mark Rothko
David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Herbert Ferber (1906–1991) and Mark Rothko (1903–1970), on view at the gallery’s 34 East 69th Street location in New York. This presentation will explore the decades-long artistic and personal dialogue between the two artists, focusing particularly on the Surrealist-inspired, biomorphic forms that they both employed in their work in the 1940s.
Ferber and Rothko were important members of the New York School, a loose conglomeration of American artists who pioneered Abstract Expressionism in the years following the Second World War. One of the leading Abstract Expressionist sculptors, Ferber first met Rothko in 1947, shortly after he joined the Betty Parsons Gallery, where Rothko was also showing at the time. Linked by shared beliefs in art and politics, the two quickly became close friends. Both artists professed an abiding interest in classical mythology and the unconscious and sought to explore archetypal and timeless forms in their work of this period. Speaking to these interests in 1947, Rothko characterized art as “an unknown adventure in an unknown space” that must provoke “a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.”
"I met him [Mark Rothko] through the Betty Parsons Gallery, which I joined in 1947, and I met the other artists who were there—[Clyfford] Still, [Seymour] Lipton, Hedda Sterne, [Saul] Steinberg, Barney Newman. And Rothko was one of them. But for some reason which was hard to explain, we became friendly within a year." —Herbert Ferber, interview by Phyllis Tuchman, June 2, 1981, conducted as part of the Mark Rothko and His Times Oral History Project, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Read the transcript or listen to the full interview here.
"Herbert Ferber . . . has reevoked [sic] the naked heroic gesture. Hanging his powerful line on and over pure space, he has succeeded in freeing himself from this hero, so that the gestures of his images move in free splendor . . . By insisting on the heroic gesture, and the gesture only, the artist has made the heroic style the property of each one of us, transforming, in the process, this style from an art that is public to one that is personal. For each man is, or should be, his own hero." —Barnett Newman, from an essay written to accompany Herbert Ferber’s solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1947. The original 1947 pamphlet is on view in a vitrine within the exhibition at David Zwirner.
Image: Betty Parsons standing in the installation of Herbert Ferber, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, December 15, 1947–January 3, 1948. Courtesy The Estate of Herbert Ferber, New York
"The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer . . . A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky act to send it out into the world." —Mark Rothko, artist statement published in the catalogue for 15 Americans, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1952
"Michelangelo’s dictum that a good sculpture would lose nothing of its importance if rolled down a mountain could never have retained its authority for so long if it had not been assumed that the unbroken mass of the work contained the essential esthetic [sic] idea. Rather than by this rule, the new sculpture might be tested by its ability to withstand a hurricane because it offers so little surface. . . . Space is not displaced, the mark of traditional sculpture; rather it is pierced and held in tension . . . The eye no longer plays over a surface . . . Without recourse to illusionism sculpture has become truly spatial . . . This, I think, is the essence of the new sculpture, and a key to its strength and exuberance." —Herbert Ferber, “On Sculpture,” first published in Art in America, 1954, and reprinted in the catalogue Ferber: New Sculpture accompanying his solo exhibition at Kootz Gallery, New York, 1955
Image: View of Herbert Ferber’s studio at 831 Broadway, New York, 1962. Courtesy The Estate of Herbert Ferber, New York
"I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame. . . . The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed." —Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” Possibilities 1 (1947–1948)
Image: Spread of Mark Rothko, "The Romantics Were Prompted," Possibilities 1 (1947–1948)