Firestone Artist Pfaff Transforms Spaces with Creative Vision

March 11, 2009

2009 Firestone Artist in Contemporary Art Judy Pfaff will give a free public presentation of her work at 7:30 p.m. March 16 in Francis Auditorium on campus.

<em>Neither Here Nor There</em>, by Judy PfaffJudy Pfaff’s artwork is an experience. It is not confined to canvas or frame or sculpture. Sometimes, it’s not even limited by the walls of a room. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of pieces that are each works of art in themselves — florescent tubing, giant welded steel objects, wires suspended in midair, fabric, wood carvings, and more — transform gallery spaces into fantastical worlds. A pioneer installation artist since the 1970s, Pfaff continues to create cutting-edge work that led to an invitation to Mary Baldwin University as the 2009 Firestone Lecturer in Contemporary Art.

“We’re so thrilled to be able to get her,” said Paul Ryan, professor of art. “Judy Pfaff is one of the big names in contemporary art; I’ve admired her work since I was in graduate school.”

The Firestone series, named for artist and art therapist and Mary Baldwin alumna Susan Paul Firestone ’68, was initiated in 2006 through the generosity of Ray Graham III. Ryan is confident that the esteemed reputation of the series has been set by its previous guests, including Margaret Evangeline and Janine Antoni.

Although she is not usually referred to as a sculptor, Pfaff’s work explores relationships between two dimensional and three-dimensional pieces. Sculpture courses are not offered at Mary Baldwin, but Pfaff’s visit will expose students to new forms and processes, Ryan said. Pfaff’s stay in mid-March will include critiques of student work, classroom lessons, and a public presentation with slides of her work March 16.

<em>Neither Here Nor There</em>, by Judy PfaffInstallation artist is widely accepted as the term that best describes Pfaff’s works, but in a recent interview for the PBS seriesArt 21: Art in the 21st Century, she admitted that the distinction has lost some of its meaning. “The word installation, or the way it’s used now, is like a catchall. If you put three paintings together, it’s now an installation of paintings. It just sounds very trendy. I’ve always made sculpture that relates to architecture or a whole sensation or feeling.”

Pfaff was born in London and earned a BFA from Washington University and an MFA from Yale University. When she’s not assembling her next work of art, she is at home in the classroom, serving as professor and co-chair of the art department at Bard College in New York. The exhibits that span her long career are numerous. The most recent includeWild Rose, a 2008 installation at Esther Massey Gallery in Albany, New York; andPaper, an exhibition of drawings at Ameringer Yohe Gallery in New York City. Her accolades include a John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award, a Bessie Award, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Peeking at her installations on , it is tempting to imagine how Pfaff could revolutionize Hunt Gallery. For now, the college looks forward to her expanding the minds of members of the Mary Baldwin community.