New York

Judy Pfaff

Holly Solomon Gallery

From the early ’70s to the early ’80s, Judy Pfaff made installations that were disassembled after the exhibition was over. Consisting of all sorts of pieces of machine-cut plastic, paint, tubing, wires, and cheap mass-produced items, these installations, in their impermanence, implicitly critiqued consumer culture. In the mid ’80s Pfaff shifted her attention from site-specific installations to wall reliefs; in music terminology, she went from improvisation to composition. While this change delimits to some extent the parameters within which Pfaff works, it also provides her with a better opportunity to consider and reconsider artistic choices. Composing at a slowed-down pace has in no way diminished either her humor or her desire to get “everything” into her work. (Pfaff was famous in the ’70s for her frenzied work habits.) In fact her recent exhibition, which was aptly titled “10,000 Things,” showed an artist gaining mastery over a wide range of such found materials as street signs and bright, geometrically shaped adhesive plastics. Pfaff is one of the few artists whose large-scale work can be simultaneously disjunctive, delicate, humorous, and unpretentious.

Through her collages on Mylar—brightly colored shapes layered over patterned surfaces—Pfaff is able to represent the dynamic conflict between chaos and the unexpected shape of an ordered structure. She convincingly renews her formalist approach through fresh means and materials. Her work conveys the speed, artificiality, and insistent disjunctiveness of modern life.

In a number of recent pieces, Pfaff arranges street signs in a grid pattern. Onto each of the signs she affixes brightly colored adhesive plastics, which have been machine-cut into geometric forms, outlines, and arabesques. There is a directness to the work, a no-nonsense application of shape and color, that recalls her earlier improvisational approach. The work is additive: one thing seems to lead naturally to another, like adjacent neighborhoods or store windows. Pfaff extends Stuart Davis’ fascination and affection for the city. Like Davis, she doesn’t subject the city to her vision of what it should be; she does something far less arrogant and far more engaging. She composes a dizzying array of shapes, things, and colors, and makes a disheveled, chaotic spatiality habitable. In doing so, she shows us how to order the twisting, clashing, cramped spaces and throwaway things of the city into something approaching the condition of music.

John Yau