Judy Pfaff
Getting to Know the Artist and the Person

Judy Pfaff’s work is brimming over with energy. Each work displays her fascination with exploring new concepts, inventing visual ideas, while manipulating and experimenting with a vast array of materials.

As a pioneer of installation art in the 1970’s, Pfaff continues to synthesize sculpture, painting and architecture into dynamic environments in which space seems to expand and collapse, fluctuating between two and three dimensional concepts as she brilliantly displays her flair for the unexpected. Entering each of her huge installations, the viewer navigates through a surprising range of sights and of emotions.

Unafraid to demonstrate her curiosity about testing all the possibilities in a wide range of formats, she proceeds vigorously to blur the line between artistic disciplines.

Working in a unique manner that is preconceived but yet spontaneous, Judy moves throughout an installation space allowing visual ideas to emerge. As her thoughts develop, she becomes more focused on the effectiveness of her design and materials so that they will declare her emotional intent. Each work of art derives from a personal experience or from the feeling of the particular space in which it will be viewed.

Evolving from her first installation in 1974, she has moved from ‘found object junk’, popular in the art world at the time, to the inventive use of the ever expanding array of new plastics, including adhesive sheets in bright colors, found objects, natural plant parts, plaster, glass, wire, steel and steel cut outs, wood, paint, lighting effects and digital photographic techniques.

Judy has had vast printmaking experience. Recently she has completed a series of long horizontal prints. They are first executed on highly detailed wood block plates composed of inscribed lines, flat surfaces and cut out areas in flowing designs. To complete the work and energize its surface, the print is finished with hand applied encaustic paint and fabric dyes. In several of the prints Judy uses imagery from Indian Sanskrit ledger books and stenciling from computer laser shapes of plants from scientific journals. Like her large scale installations these prints have a three dimensional presence.

To understand the artist and her body of work, the best guides are her own words that follow:

“I probably have a problem with ideas. Most of the art world is idea-based: this means this and that means that. But I’m really trying to get something very emotional and murky – more sensation and emotion than idea. Black and white is not an idea, but my art is based on something ... It‘s life based - what you gather and try to document. You keep in touch with who you are.”

Pfaff creates visual space that puts her and all of us, “in the middle of the vortex, to be in the whirlwind.”

Judy is represented in many permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Library of Congress to name a few.

She has had hundreds of solo exhibitions of her work in art museums all around the world. You can also find her exhibitions on university campuses.

Judy Pfaff was born in London, England in 1946. She received her BFA from Washington University in St. Louis, MO in 1971 and in 1973 she was awarded an MFA from Yale University. 

She has received several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 2004 was named a MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation receiving a grant of 500,000 dollars.

Judy continues to create new artwork and currently is a Professor of Art and Co-Chair of the Art Department at Bard College, in New York.


Whitney Museum of American Art,
1987 Biennial

Another Cinderella Project, 1988-89
12ft x 25ft x 6ft

Year of the Dog #10, 2008
38 1/2 x 86 1/2

2008 Studio in Brooklyn, Prints in Progress

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