New York

Polly Apfelbaum

Amy Lipton Gallery

Polly Apfelbaum’s sleight of hand arrangements are composed neither of ubiquitous cultural artifacts nor of ordinary treasures found in streets and cities. Apfelbaum selects her objects for specific associative and emotional qualities, and the tender, disturbing installations she composes give the tradition of the found object a new feminist twist. This work continues the examination of the mutable meaning of things but marshalls specific associations to predetermined ends.

Targetlike forms in three of Apfelbaum’s installations, each entitled Wallflowers, 1990, appear to retreat and press against the wall. Ranging in diameter from 68 to 72 inches, they consist of small flowers made of paper, glitter, and wire. In measured concentric rings, Apfelbaum has densely tacked the artificial buds and blossoms of delicate tea roses. The subtitles reflect predominant colors: Passion is red, Purity is white, and, not surprisingly, Mixed Emotions consists of a variegated scheme. The diminutive flowers are wrested from sentimentality and devotedly applied in a formal pattern on slick, white walls.

The other arrangements are melancholic but more whimsical. Two Spanish Ladies Under a Gypsy Moon, 1990, (inspired by the Rilke poem) consists of two wrought-iron chairs with lacy sculpted backs and mustard-colored vinyl seats placed side by side against the wall. Maroon felt hats with trailing ribbons rest on the unoccupied seats in evidence of some intimate gathering dispersed, some conversation momentarily suspended. The installation is not about absence; like all effective props, each object transmits the presence of human passions.

On an adjacent wall two mirrors, one full-length and rippled for a fun-house effect and the other a tidy, conventional oval with a floral frame, hang next to each other. Entitled Old Wives Tales Part I and II, 1990, they serve as props for another drama of self-reflection, for the various tales of the distorted and eclipsed body that the mirror tells.

“Drown the Clown,” 1990, is a somber series of three dingy clown suits hung in order of increasing size. Two costumes have the traditional harlequin pattern, and the middle one is white with brash red dots. Each suit has a corsage of gaudily dyed flowers pinned to the shoulder. The dying carnations are like the tacky, wilted remembrances presented at a prom or opening night, and the ensemble conveys the disturbing pathos of humor, the tragic dimensions of the clown. Simple, vulgar mirrors disclose that the ordinary look at the body is an arbitrary, disturbed activity; even improbable images shape perception. The costumes—the props of circus performance—become provocations for art, and the comedic paraphernalia evokes tragedy.

These installations are carefully chosen signs of life that relay the imaginative incitements in unusual and ordinary things. Apfelbaum’s restless sensibility provides a generous, open-ended invitation to travel this occupied space.

Patricia C. Phillips