Pears Are Centerpiece of Martha Alf’s Show


It’s hard to get excited about Martha Alf’s drawings and photographs, but it’s also hard not to like them in a benign way. At Newspace Gallery, the artist’s trademark still lifes of various types of pears are interspersed with color photographs of museum interiors, vases of flowers and more pears--alone, in pairs, trios and groups of four.

Alf’s pears are always set on a flat surface, not far behind the picture plane. Because they are studiously rendered from a point of view that brings your eye down to their level, their scale is ambiguous. Neither monumental nor ordinary, the pears hover somewhere between.

Alf’s glossy, supersaturated photographs of narcissus stems, set against hot-red backdrops, lack the delicacy of her lovingly shaded drawings. The four photos of museum interiors, from 15 years ago, depict open windows and include paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Sir Joshua Reynolds, as if viewers needed to be told that Alf’s drawings are about serenity.


Although her meticulously crafted images are indeed calm, the anthropomorphic narratives they suggest actually get the upper hand. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to read two pears as plump women leaning together, to whisper or kiss. Or to see a trio of pears as a group of friends engaged in lively conversation.

In the end, these hints of metaphor leave you wanting more from Alf’s pictures, which is probably just what the artist wants. Although this feeling may not be particularly satisfying, it’s better than to be left wanting less.

* Newspace Gallery, 5241 Melrose Ave., (213) 469-9353, through Saturday.