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Cited by critics as the pioneer of installation-art, this oft-cited label for the sprawling career of Judy Pfaff provides an introductory sense of Pfaff’s legacy, but proves limiting to the ever-changing work she has been making for decades and still today. Born in London in 1946, Pfaff received a BFA from Washington University Saint Louis (1971), and an MFA from Yale University (1973) where she studied with Al Held.  Her work spans across disciplines from painting to printmaking to sculpture to installation, but is perhaps best described as painting in space. These spatial paintings inhabit and transform their environments, becoming ad hoc homes for viewers and the artist. Drawing upon a wealth of spiritual, botanical, and art historical imagery, Pfaff’s installations simultaneously and without contradiction reference the austerity of a cathedral and the temporality of a mandala. Like a mandala, the life of Pfaff’s work is brief and burning, deconstructed and sections discarded after a show comes down. Each installation considers the specific spatial geometries of the room, the ceiling, the street out the window, so that no two shows are ever alike. This tenacious generosity Pfaff offers her viewers, in which she and her crew labor for months or years for shows that last days or weeks, sets Pfaff apart from colleagues in other disciplines who can rely on sales of discrete objects. Refusing to give narrative meaning to her work, this urgent and ferocious need to labor for the visual and tactile is remarkable in an era where language dominates artistic activity. She exhibited work in the Whitney Biennials of 1975, 1981, and 1987, and represented the United States in the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal. Her pieces reside in the permanent collections of MOMA, Whitney Museum of Art, Tate Gallery, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Detroit Institute of Arts, among others. She is the recipient of many awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center (2014), the MacArthur Foundation Award (2004), and the Guggenhiem Fellowship (1983). Pfaff lives and works in Tivoli, New York.

https://www.judypfaffstudio.com/


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