(American, born in England, 1946)
Untitled (target, garden, lily pad), 2000
Photogravure, etching, lithograph, chine collé, hand-applied dye, applied leaves Edition: 30
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Dunlop Family Endowment and William Dunlop
By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions
Profiled in the PBS documentary series Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century, Judy Pfaff appears in an episode titled “Romance” and yet, ironically, during the course of the interview she is seen welding steel and driving a forklift as she prepares for a major installation at a New York gallery. Since the mid-1970s the artist has gained international renown for creating environments using both industrial and natural materials. Writer Sheila Bermel has noted that these constructs are simultaneously “2-D, 3-D, architectural, metaphorical, allegorical, literal and abstract.” Object complexity is an integral part of all that Pfaff creates, evidenced equally in her monumental installations and multi-layered, intricate prints. Pfaff’s art has always transcended the traditional gallery box or picture frame, as demonstrated here in her stair-step ensemble of images.
A 19th-century botanical illustration provides the largest element in Pfaff’s collage of visual references. The gigantic species of water lily depicted here, Victoria Regia, named after the young English queen in 1937, became a favorite at botanical gardens where visitors flocked to be photographed standing on the floating pad. The print’s hand-applied green dye suggests the rippling surface of water and contrasts in its fluidity to the tightly rendered scientific drawing. The lower half of the image includes actual plant cuttings, a direct reference to the naturalist‘s practice of collecting and preserving specimens. Coupling these components with a photogravure of a carefully maintained Japanese garden, Pfaff surveys a natural world circumscribed by humans, suggesting that the landscapes we experience and appreciate are too often controlled and artificial, at odds with the idea of wilderness that once defined our vision of America. The image of concentric circles recurs in much of Pfaff’s work, evoking again waves across water, but connoting as well other forms of reverberation, the orbits of planets, or perhaps a target.
In anticipation of Auburn’s celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, curators will campaign to acquire work by women artists, thus adding to the 54 females currently represented in the collection. Learn more.