New York

Polly Apfelbaum

Hirschl & Adler Modern

Polly Apfelbaum combines a Depression-era resourcefulness with an almost compulsive need to acquire material goods. Her witty, neo-Minimalist works are comprised of sera ps of crushed velvet, snapshots, pieces of felt, and bedsheets worn soft and thin that are dyed, chopped up, and reassembled into quilts or laid out in methodical rows, Victory Garden style. Apfelbaum’s most recent exhibition featured four series of works on paper and three stained-fabric constructions that sit somewhere between painting and sculpture, such as Ashes III, 1993–95, in which petals of velvet, sooty with ink, accrue in a pile.

It is these constructions that serve as mulch for her drawings, not vice versa. For example, the six collages of My Favorite Things, 1993, recycle surplus documentation of previous works and place them amid a confetti of marks that resemble burst ink-bubbles. Sliced and diced photographic fragments evoke Apfelbaum’s predilections and detail past work. A silvered view of The Friendship Chair, 1990–91, a work based on the Victorian vogue for ribbon collecting, points up an interest in objects with sentimental value, while a clown doll that dates from an earlier involvement with found objects suggests a source for the carnival quality, softness, and pliability of the current works.

As intimate as scrapbooks, these drawings also reveal a good deal about the processes and rhythms of Apfelbaum’s work. The drawing Botanicals, 1994–95, is comprised of minuscule photographs of vegetables and flowers taken from seed catalogues, structured by lines that look as if they had been blown across the paper rather than drawn. This work recalls both Jennifer Bartlett’s early enamel-tile pieces and the fissured surfaces of Mary Heilmann’s recent paintings. Pat the Bunny, 1992, marks even more precisely the point at which Apfelbaum departs from Minimalist restraint and lets humor creep into each white felt square. Decorated with a few circles of stained velvet such as might appear by the hundreds in her paintings, these white squares are invitingly tactile, evoking the children’s book for which they are named (each page of the bunny book included a scrap of material with a different texture), but there’s also a meaty messiness in the stanched flow of ink and the loopy ropes of line that alludes to something less endearing. Apfelbaum has an aptitude for allowing the obsessive to give way to the unpredictable. Her best works teeter on this precipice, dutifully filling in the outlines and simultaneously deviating from the plot. By focusing on drawings, this exhibition afforded an intimate view of the balance between parsimony and lush indulgence that is at the heart of Apfelbaum’s work.

Ingrid Schaffner