by Robin Dluzen
David Weinberg Gallery is hosting the first solo exhibition in the career of multi-media artist, Judy Pfaff, accompanied by the paintings of Jennifer Scott McLaughlin. In the same way that Pfaff’s works overflow with material, the walls of the gallery abound with the accumulation of concepts from throughout her career. Through the subtleties in abstraction and nature themes, Pfaff’s wall-bound works challenge boundaries of two-dimensional and the three-dimensional representation.
Using the word “subtle” at first might not seem to be the most appropriate term for Pfaff’s works, often large scale and loaded to an extreme with material of all kinds; at first approach, they seemingly are piled masses of material scavenged from nature on top of one another. However, that assessment is immediately complicated by the actual materials used. Yes, there are indeed some found objects like gourds, some leaves, and coffee filters, but the majority of the material is composed of paper, along with artificial flowers and black aluminum foil.
On her large square works, such as the 94” x 94” Underbelly, the piles of paper and objects encourage viewers to formally respond to shapes created by the material—as they would with works like abstract paintings. In addition, the materials are also retaining the forms of what they actually are, adding the meaning of what they stand for as flowers, leaves and coffee filters to the overall piece. Similarly, the smaller works (some a lot smaller, and some only a little) retain the material qualities as content, while they also start to reference landscape through their uniform rectangles. In these rectangular, horizontal works, the materials work to stand for more than themselves, in their assistance in signaling a broad sense of natural landscapes.
Further complicating the issue of representation is the inclusion of the drawn, printed and painted elements woven into the compositions. So in addition to the three-dimensional objects themselves, and their abilities to be used as forms as well as metaphors, the paper and cardboard emphasized in the work challenge the capacity of two-dimensional art. The papers drawn, painted or printed on do their traditional duty of illusion, but they also are cut into shapes, folded into origami, sliced, and often are punctured by objects that then use the paper as a support, as in the file folders used to create a smaller work, Goldenseal.
The three-dimensionality is presented in this exhibition with two very different means: free hanging works and works that are contained within shadow boxes. For the large works, being uncontained allows for the material to occupy the viewers’ space with a sense of the material’s potential to engulf and overwhelm. However, the encased works, even when they are large, relate an obvious sense of viewer separation from the dominance of the material. With the authority passed onto the viewer instead, we can navigate and observe the work freely and at ease. This dual presentation of the power of natural and unnatural substances creates a tension that encourages a wide range of interpretations and possibilities.
The solo exhibitions of Judy Pfaff and Jennifer Scott McLaughlin are on display April 26- May 29, 2010 at David Weinberg Gallery, 300 West Superior Street, Suite 203, Chicago. Works by both artists can also be seen at the galleries Art Chicago booth 12-142.