Institute Of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA 1979
graphite powder on architectural surfaces
12′ x 28′ x 28′
This installation imposed a drawing of an imaginary space into the architectural space in which it is situated. Solely through the application of graphite powder onto the existing floors, walls, and columns of the rooms, a fictive space became palpable, oppositional to the architecture and yet entirely dependant on it. The imaginary space was generated by using the existing columns as centerpoint and radius to describe a cylindrical space within the gallery space. The purity of the fictive space was fractured into numerous fragments when applied to the existing architectural forms.
ARTFORUM – October, 1979
“Six Sculptors.” Institute of Contemporary Art:
by Ronald J. Onorato
The most visually exciting piece in the exhibition was that of JEFFREY SCHIFF. Like Rothfarb, Schiff created his own space but with more ephemeral means – he made no objects, he build no structures. In one sense, the space Schiff used was given as he chose to rework part of the remodeled interior of the institute’s 19th-century building. His chosen area, the main staircase leading to the second floor where the rest of the exhibition was held, is not a very well defined space. It is really a large, open, multisided well cutting between floors. Several turns, a landing, open and closed banisters and the fact that all second floor galleries open onto the well make the space confusing the incoherent. Schiff brings to this awkward architecture a rational clarity – in an unexpected way, by hand-rubbing graphite in a predetermined pattern around the case. Schiff demarcates a cylinder centered on an extant structural column. As a simple, strong vertical rising though the amorphous well, the column provides the pinion on which the rest of Schiff’s conception revolves. All the architecture that falls within his cylindrical boundary – walls, floors, overhead exposed steel beams, banisters, etc. – is covered with the dark powder.
At no single point do Schiff’s shadowed walls resolve completely, but they frame voids, reveal connections between spaces and even pick out various nuances of proportion and detail usually hidden by the homogeneity of white gallery walls. Schiff plays with the space. He wrests it out of its doldrums and gives it back to his audience as his own. With the most evanescent means, Schiff provides an experience spatially startling and visually sensitive.
DRAWING – November – December 1983
Excerpt from: A Dictionary of Assumptions: Drawings by Contemporary Sculptors
By Ronald J. Onorato
One young artist working out of Boston represents a younger subgeneration of those who would directly engage architecture and the environment. Jeff Schiff has often relied on drawing as the most available, most accessible means of developing his large-scale projects. In the late 1970s, he drew several proposals involving the planting of trees in specific patterns, sometimes couples with a structure of his own design. In Porch House Project for a Dense Forest, 1977-80, Schiff projected the pattern of trees and the layout of a covered, rectangular, cloisterlike structure in the relatively wide graduation of tones available to him though a detailed graphite drawing. Sometimes, his plans would include graphic overlays of orthogonal projections or splayed walls (not unlike an unfolded paper box), this to present all the pertinent information that he experience in extant architecture (as in San Bernardino, 1980) or that he wanted his audience to experience in his own creations (as in Shift, 1979).
Drawing was never as central to any sculptor’s activity, however, as it has been in a series of works produced by Schiff between a series of works produced by Schiff between 1979 and 1981. In these projects, Schiff’s sculptural act is a graphic act as he manipulates his audience’s perception of an existing space by coating certain areas of the architecture with dark, metallic grey graphite powder. He might envision an atriumlike court offset within a gallery space (as he did at the University of Rhode Island in 1980) or a complex, cylinder clarification of a complex stairwell (as at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1979). In effect, he gets us to see his spaces, re-ëditions, or even corrections of given sites though the act of rubbing graphite onto walls, ceilings, rugs, thermostats, banisters, and any other architectural elements within his chosen workspace. We experience his sculptural space by literally inhabiting one of his drawings.
Unlike others who transcribe, sometimes with great clarity, their sculptural idea onto a two-dimensional surface, Schiff has managed to incorporate an ancient activity into his manipulation of space as he hand-colors a wall, a section of floor, an edge of a door, or a load-bearing beam.
Schiff’s work underscores the role that drawing splay for all these artists. The flay page offers them a second mode of visual expression. They find in it the means to organize and image their initial ideas and record their accomplishments. It also allows them the freedom to hone and assert what might otherwise be ignored in the structures they build and the spaces they define.