By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
World-famous modern and contemporary artists are part of the stock and trade of the Robischon Gallery, which makes the point with Judy Pfaff: An Installation of Drawings. The fairly large show highlights some of the New York legend's latest creations. It runs until the end of the year.
Pfaff first came to prominence nearly a quarter century ago, and her timing was perfect. It was the late 1970s, when a generation of women called a halt to male dominance of society. The movement made it easier for more women to enter one profession after another, including the fine arts. Pfaff also found herself on the leading edge of an aesthetic trend -- the increased interest in installation art. Although this form dates back to the early twentieth century, it didn't really take off until the 1980s. Interest in installation art still remains strong.
Born in London in 1946, Pfaff came to the United States as a child. She later attended Yale, where she earned an MFA in 1973. While at Yale she studied with painter Al Held, who became her mentor.
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Pfaff didn't copy Held, but she did react and respond to his non-doctrinaire minimalism when she created work that broke with minimalism and went into conceptual art with an expressionist twist. Held's less-is-more approach was thus rejoined by Pfaff with her more-is-more philosophy. On the other hand, Pfaff does take Held's abstract illusions of depth and transforms them into actual depth. That's why her installations seem like abstract paintings that people can literally walk through. Aside from this conceptual link, however, it's very hard to connect Held's scrupulously ordered sense of pictorial space with Pfaff's enthusiastically disordered approach to space itself. And that's why it's incorrect to call Pfaff a post-minimalist, as the gallery's press release does. She's much more clearly associated with expressionism than with minimalism, post or otherwise.
The show at Robischon isn't an installation show, though, which is why it's been cleverly subtitled An Installation of Drawings. Drawings may be unexpected from Pfaff, but they're not a new interest for her; they've simply been overshadowed by her installations. Not surprisingly, the drawings in this show deal with many of the same concepts that Pfaff explores in her better-known installations.
Although she employs some typical drawing tools -- pencil, ink, pastel and charcoal -- Pfaff mainly uses found materials, including three-dimensional objects like leaves and twigs, in addition to cut-up pieces of paper, paint and resin. So what Pfaff calls drawings are really assemblages. In fact, in the deep shadow-box frames in which they're displayed, they look like details or fragments from one of her installations. (This is not a reference to the Pfaff piece that was accidentally chopped up a few years ago at the Denver Art Museum. In that snafu, workers from a commercial moving company cut it up to fit into crates instead of dismantling it. The Pfaff had been displayed on the museum's roof as a part of the traveling Landscape as Metaphor exhibit.)
For Installation of Drawings, the three front spaces of Robischon have been converted into one big area, and the portable walls have been pushed to the sides to make room for the largest Pfaff drawings. It looks great, and the show itself is riveting and beautiful.
As we enter the gallery, two of the largest and most important drawings, "Untitled" and "Chrysanthemum," are adjacent to one another, each on its own wall. These two closely related pieces are large and horizontal, and both include a lot of red and a big assortment of media, including oil stick, acrylic resin, encaustic, photos and rice paper. Pfaff's surfaces are usually gorgeous, but the puddles of acrylic resin that dot these drawings are especially nice. They look like glass or hard candy. The use of the rice paper reveals the Asian theme that runs throughout this show, as does the title "Chrysanthemum." Asia, in particular Japan, is not referred to in a literal way, but in a visual one.
One of the most thoroughly Asian pieces in the show is "Red Star," hung midway back. For this large horizontal drawing, Pfaff has created a collage of Japanese prints of insects and pages of Chinese characters on two pieces of paper, each in its own section of a two-part frame. Pfaff has further adorned the pieces of paper with rubber stamps of cherry blossoms rendered in a simple, traditional style and done in red ink; there's also a lot of red paint.
Next to "Red Star" is "Untitled," an unusual and unforgettable drawing. In the vertically oriented piece, Pfaff assembles sprays of oak leaves encased in clear acrylic. These are on top of an abstract drawing of scribbles that are dripping and running from the top, and an all-over pattern of red and yellow dots. The abstract lines and dots are laid over a collage of printed pages depicting spores or seeds.
Across from these drawings, in a large niche, is "Oxygen," one of the quietest and most subtly colored drawings in the show. In this large horizontal piece, Pfaff has created a collage of photos and altered and enlarged digital prints, all depicting a group of ducks on the water. As the photos were enlarged and altered, the ducks became unrecognizable and turned into a pattern of repeated abstract dots. Heightening this effect are painted dots in acrylic resin and ink that mimic the shape of the altered and simplified ducks.