Despite a prolific output of work, this is Judy Pfaff’s first solo exhibition in Chicago. For a large part of her career, Pfaff has been known for her pioneering installations and sculpture. However, in recent decades there has been a marked transition within her work.
In a 1998 interview with Richard Whittaker, Pfaff describes this transition as a shift from the exterior to an “interior landscape.” A 2004 MacArthur grant also spurred changes and increased production in Pfaff’s work. With the unrestricted grant she acquired five acres of land in upstate New York, a staggering amount of studio space, and legions of assembling assistants.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have numbered among Pfaff’s legions. I spent a summer at the University of Wisconsin-affiliated Tandem Press in Madison—along with many others—printing, cutting and assembling parts of her complex “Year of the Dog” prints. Created throughout the last few years, this series of seven-foot-long layered woodblock prints composes a large part of the show. Pfaff’s lively style, influenced here by Japanese printmaking, is made more accessible when translated into print. She is better able to edit herself when working with variations on the multiple, and her color palette is more uniformly restrained.
Wilder and less restrained are Pfaff’s most recent works on paper. These densely packed, three-dimensional collages are full of bright colors, floral motifs and a hodgepodge of found papers and objects. Many of the pieces, encased in plexiglass and shadowbox frames, bring to mind the caged beauty of a sleeping Snow White, or the frozen scene of a nature diorama. These explosive assemblages hover at a breaking point, begging for release in a larger installation.
Despite professing to be a city person, flowers, vines, fruits and birds appear with fervent consistency in her work. After a graduate-school foray into figurative painting at Yale, in 1980 Pfaff traveled to the Yucatán, an inspirational, seminal experience that prompted her to vow to never return to the figure. Instead, using imagery from nature allows Pfaff a roundabout way of depicting emotional states. In a modern version of the fruit and vegetable portraits of sixteenth-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Judy Pfaff uses fruits and flora to compose interior landscapes expressing human emotion. (Julia V. Hendrickson)
Through May 29 at the David Weinberg Gallery, 300 W. Superior, Suite 203.