New York

Judy Pfaff

Like Judy Pfaff’s gallery-filling 1997 installation Round Hole, Square Peg, which seemed to push the walls of its site out in all directions (circling the square), her latest project, Neither Here nor There, integrated an astonishing variety of materials, motifs, and symbols into a dynamic whole. This time, she put more emphasis on the vertical, using wood-and-steel post-and-lintel joinery and pipes to support a gridwork of wood, steel, aluminum, and string, while an intricate iron latticework snaked from floor to ceiling through a deluge of centrifugal white plaster pendants. The installation was separated into its two main regions of activity by a wall, whose six-foot-diameter viewing hole evoked a Chinese moongate.

In the first area, the network of iron “roadways” or elaborated zigzags seemed to rise up out of the floor, punctuated by large white plaster shapes resembling Indonesian or Tibetan stupas or chess pieces. In the second area, a rough grid of very slim white graduated columns, interlocking wooden slats, rods, and yellow string in the center of the room was extended on one wall with tin ceiling panels, floral stencils, shadowy drip lines, and red, yellow, and black tape. On the wall opposite, a Tibetan sand mandala had been drawn in white on a brilliant crimson field.

Most of the composition was made up of architectural components, but three elements from nature imported a sense of loss and uprootedness: a dead, spiky, sun-starved cedar tree at the entrance; a massive piece of Pacific Coast driftwood resting in a steel and milled-wood armature nearby; and, in the room with the mandala, several very large dried water-lily pads resting on platforms as if on catafalques.

Neither Here nor There could be taken as a pointed meditation on fixity and flux and on the accelerating movement of cultural signs. Visual motifs from various traditions appeared in the mix—the Chinese column in the center, the Victorian moldings and brackets suspended within the grid, the Persian patterning and design elements snaking amid the Indonesian or Tibetan stupa-like shapes—and were absorbed into the flow. All these forms have histories, and part of the compositional movement here involved the orchestration of these histories to make their multiple senses available simultaneously to the viewer. The suspended “roadways,” in addition to being extensions of Islamic design motifs, could have been ley lines or elements from tantric yantras; the turned plaster pendants could have been ancient stupas or modern chandeliers; and the eight-pointed stars on the floor invoked both the Star of David and Islamic designs from eighteenth-century Morocco. The deep significance of this work lies in its profound optimism about the availability and movement of things and signs.

This installation was so visually opulent that it took a while to recognize how much restraint must have been required to make it all work. Pfaff got maximum movement out of the grid and considerable chromatic excitement out of her two predominant colors, crimson and gold. In the late afternoon, the sun came through the brightly colored gels Pfaff had placed in the Fifty-seventh Street windows, bathing the central structure in saturated red and yellow light. At that point, one felt in the presence of a melancholy bowerbird, wandering around in the terminal moraine of globalism, picking up shards and transforming them through skillful arrangement and an erotically charged grace under pressure into active, still-significant things.

David Levi Strauss