Art review: Judy Pfaff at Greenfield Sacks


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Judy Pfaff is best known for room-filling installations that practically burst with exuberant colors and shapes. So it’s not surprising that her six large works on paper at Greenfield Sacks look as if they are about to jump out of their frames. Combining hand-painting with woodcut prints, digital images and cut paper, they are densely layered collages of stylized nature motifs — branches, birds, flowers and leaves — in a palette that runs from stark black and white to rich ochre and red.

This autumnal color scheme, combined with Pfaff’s use of paper silhouettes, gives the works a nostalgic, almost wistful tone. Silhouettes of birds and flowers read simultaneously as presence and absence: stark outlines of things that are no longer there.


Such decorative imagery can often come across as precious, but Pfaff skillfully walks the line between prettiness and something rougher. While the works evoke all manner of genteel ornament — old damask fabrics, Japanese woodblock prints, Victorian cut paper silhouettes — they also capture the hurly-burly of nature, at times recalling the atmospheric, whirlwind abstractions of Julie Mehretu. But where Mehretu’s works are sleek and cerebral, Pfaff’s literally curl and drip off their surfaces. Like a rich carpet of leaves on a forest floor, their cacophonous layers conjure the tactility and mystery of nature amid imagery that would otherwise reduce it to mere decoration.

--Sharon Mizota

Greenfield Sacks Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B6, Santa Monica, (310) 264-0640, through April 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.