Critics’ Picks

View of “Polly Apfelbaum,” 2015–16.

View of “Polly Apfelbaum,” 2015–16.

New York

Polly Apfelbaum

56 Henry
56 Henry Street
December 11, 2015–January 24, 2016

In ecstatic floor compositions and ordered tabletop groupings of fabric, pigment, glitter, and rugs, Polly Apfelbaum’s work can be understood as a triangulation of painting, sculpture, and the readymade. But this artist often sets her sights on something more open-ended and playful.

A square table occupying most of the gallery holds fifty or so ceramic bowls cradling different kinds of handmade ceramic beads, each one about an inch in diameter. They look supremely edible—like shiny olives, lychees, and cherries; or powdery wasabi peas and knobby key limes—all guaranteed to crack a tooth or dislodge a filling should one try to take a bite. Thirteen of these beads are strung up in the gallery’s street-facing window, transformed from fake snacks to celestial bodies, as they assume their slots in a galactic model calibrated to the artist’s eye level.

At the show’s opening, a friend of the artist occupied a makeshift craft area at the gallery’s window ledge, stringing together smaller beads than the ones on display. Nearby was Apfelbaum, dressed in a chic navy tunic and grinning, sweetly bestowing each visitor with a modest necklace. As the night waned the beads scattered throughout the city, tokens of generosity dangling against chests or stuffed into pockets and purses. In these offerings, Apfelbaum abdicated preciousness for aesthetic beneficence. Here the artist reveled in the sheer power of just giving it away, with gestures both subtle and lovely.