PRINT Summer 1986


The Arc of a Diver—Judy Pfaff.

JUDY PFAFF'S WORK IS like an opera in which everyone gets to sing an aria. Instead of sticking to the hierarchical picture plane, her installations and reliefs stretch it, bend it, twist it. Through the seams, cracks, and fissures, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism slide into each other’s universe in a way that opens up a new, phantasmagoric space for us to enter.

Enter Here, the viewer must surrender attachments to terms such as abstraction and figuration, hard-edged and atmospheric, dissonance and rhythm, found and invented. Here, sculpture and painting, separated for so long, see and touch each other in an accumulation of brushstrokes and planes, where two and three dimensions, color and air, burst through one another. Half spheres, Oat planes, negative space, and tubular circumferences overlap, intersect, and spiral. Order and chaos inform each other until we are left wondering. Is this a stable world becoming unglued? Or is it an unstable world managing to hang together, like a house of cards?

Pfaff possesses a knack for revivifying fragments with a surgical accuracy that opens up the narrowing vein of art history. We know none of these things should fit with anything else, yet they do. Nothing ever loses its identity because its identity was not pinned down in the first place. We are not reminded of where the forms come from but are struck immediately by the strength and wit with which they lead their present lives. These are lives in progress; basically, everything about Pfaff’s work has the energy of being in progress. Lately, Pfaff has been using plastic fruit, plastic fish, and brightly painted works to engender a molecular change in still life. The concept of nature morte is turned inside out, so that one sees a gathering of objects that extends out of Cubist still life. Cubism, which exploded the object so that it meshed with its surrounding space, has been exploded in turn by the artist.

Beauty, we have been told repeatedly, is only skin-deep. Pfaff plunges into the maelstrom that lies beneath the skin of finished art. There, weightlessness, intoxications, and imagination mingle. Deepwater, a 1980 installation which had its origins in the artist’s experience of skin diving, is emblematic of the way Pfaff approaches her work. Living in the gallery while she was making the installation, the artist, one can say, dove both into the space and into the daydream vaults locked behind her perceptions.

John Yau