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Drake Brings Work of Installation Art Pioneer Judy Pfaff to Campus

Judy Pfaff, an art gallery pioneer, will have her freehand works hosted in the Anderson Gallery, which is located in FAC. Photo by Lily Wasserman | Features Editor

On Sept. 5, Drake’s Anderson Gallery opened its new show to start the fall semester: “Freehand: Drawings and Prints” by Judy Pfaff. The gallery held an opening reception and invited members of the community to attend. 

The Anderson Gallery employs Drake students to install and monitor shows, meaning students work to secure and display artwork as well as attend to the gallery and its visitors during its open hours.

The current show contains works done by Pfaff, an American artist currently located in New York. Many critics have cited Pfaff as the pioneer of installation art, due to her body of work that spans across multiple mediums and disciplines. Pfaff is renowned for her installation works that inhabit the spaces they are in, joining and transforming them. 

Pfaff was born in London, and moved to Detroit as a teen. She earned her BFA from Washington University in Saint Louis in 1971 and went on to earn her MFA from Yale in 1973. During her time at Yale she studied under the mentorship of abstract expressionist painter Al Held.

Pfaff’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of Art, Tate Gallery, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts and many more. Pfaff exhibited work in the Whitney Biennials of 1975, 1981 and 1987 and represented the United States in the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal.

The show has over 50 objects containing a multitude of media and materials. The use of found materials and traditional art mediums work together to create cohesive illustrations inspired by the natural world.

“The theme we thought about was different patterns of nature and the world — finding how she’s shown her patterns in the past 30 years…playing with and reusing line and forms,” Anderson Gallery Director Lilah Anderson said. 

“Her hand and the way she manipulates is very important to see,” Anderson said. 

The works were specifically chosen to highlight works from the past 30 years of Pfaff’s career, right up to her most recent work. On display is her newest triptych, finished the week before the show and shipped to the gallery.     

Pfaff considered the setting of Drake as an educational institution and how her works could impact the students in the art programs on campus.

 “The choices were mostly organic and botanical references, which were of interest to Lilah after she saw the catalog of my show at the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz. Like the show at the Dorsky, since the Anderson Gallery is located in an education institution, I tried to choose works that would demonstrate a variety of techniques and formats used in printmaking and drawing,” Pfaff said. “The six OXO series unique prints, for instance, are an example of the possible variety that can be achieved from starting with a single printed image, also perforated in this case, and presenting a different base layer beneath it.”

While the works featured in the show are described as 2D, up close the viewer can see Pfaff’s sculptural hand still at play through the use of layering and building of materials. 

“I asked my friend to confirm I wasn’t allowed to touch anything because it looked like texture would be part of the experience. I kept wanting to reach out and feel the different pieces, I just stepped closer and noticed the 3D effect,” Drake alum Kate Schaechter, who attended the show, said.  

Schaechter also described how Pfaff’s work created a space for meditation.

“The whole installation gave me the opportunity to interpret her art in the context of my day. I had just finished up a long day at work, and Pfaff’s show aided my thoughts in decompressing after,” Schaeter said. 

When working with installations, Pfaff considers the specific dimensions of the spaces the pieces will be displayed in, bringing the spaces the work is being shown in as part of the work itself. When considering the Anderson Gallery as a space, Pfaff considered its previous history.

“I really liked the gallery. Its previous life as a breezeway and the current form of it really suits my work,” Pfaff said.  “I tend to operate horizontally, telling a story from left to right, and this format really lends itself to that narrative sense of looking and thinking while you’re walking.”

In addition to the show, there will be a new immersive opera performed in the Anderson Gallery inspired by the works of Pfaff and the Anderson Gallery space. The opera, titled Cadence of Life, composed by Nathan Felix will be performed by students of the Drake Opera Theatre and Drake Chamber Music programs. 

Unlike most opera performances, the audience and the cast will share the same space in the gallery. As the cast moves around matching scenes to corresponding artworks and using the space as their stage, the audience is encouraged to follow and move with them. This gives the audience the opportunity to view the performance from many different perspectives, ensuring no two audience members walk away with the same experience. 

“The audience is encouraged to follow the narrative of the piece, which entails following the soloists, but they are ultimately given agency to explore based on feeling, sight and soundscape,” said Felix. 

Cadence of Life will be performed Thursday, Oct. 5 in the Anderson Gallery located in the Harmon Fine Arts Center. The performance is free to attend, but tickets should be reserved in advance due to limited capacity. Tickets can be reserved on the Anderson Gallery website.

“Freehand: Drawings and Prints” by Pfaff will run in the Anderson Gallery through Oct. 15. Attending the gallery is free and open to the public. The gallery’s hours of operation can be viewed on the Anderson Gallery website. For additional information about the show, contact Anderson Gallery Director Lilah Anderson at lilah.anderson@drake.edu.

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