Judy Pfaff

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Judy Pfaff
Born 1946
Education Cass Technical High School
Alma mater Washington University in St. Louis, Yale University
Style Installation art
Awards MacArthur Fellow

Judy Pfaff (born 1946 in London, England) is an American artist known mainly for installation art and sculptures, though she also produces paintings and prints.[1] Pfaff has received numerous awards for her work, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship[2] (2004) and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation[3] (1983) and the National Endowment for the Arts[4] (1986). Major exhibitions of her work have been held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison[5] (2001), Denver Art Museum (1994) and Saint Louis Art Museum (1989).[6] In 2013 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Yoyogi (State II), 1984, is a woodcut print published by Crown Point Press in San Francisco. Pfaff went to Japan to learn the technique.[8]

Pfaff comes from a working-class background. Her father, a Royal Air Force pilot, was absent from her life. Pfaff's mother moved to Detroit soon after Pfaff's birth, leaving Pfaff and her brother to be raised by their grandparents. Post-war London was bleak; Pfaff has described playing in bombed out and abandoned buildings, gathering "raw materials for fantasy buildings."[9] A reunion in 1956 with her mother in Detroit, where she attended Cass Technical High School,[10] did not end well. At age 15, Pfaff left home and eventually married a U.S. Air Force officer. She attended Wayne State University and Southern Illinois University, completing a BFA at Washington University in 1971.

Pfaff enrolled in the MFA program at Yale University School of Art, where she embraced the use of heavy equipment and outsized materials. Other disciplines, such as physics, medicine, zoology and astronomy, also influenced her work.[9] At Yale, Pfaff studied with Al Held, who became her mentor. With Held's encouragement, she created an installation for her final project.[5] She completed her MFA in 1973 and then moved to New York City.

Installation art[edit]

In New York, Pfaff created her first large-scale installation piece, J.A.S.O.N--J.A.S.O.N., at the nonprofit Artists Space in 1975.[11]

Pfaff describes her site-specific installations as abstract narratives based on personal experiences.[12] Art critic Benjamin Genocchio commented that Pfaff's installation work can seem disordered, but with a closer look an order seems to reveal itself.[13]

In 2006, Pfaff's Buckets of Rain was exhibited at the Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art gallery in New York.[14]

Pfaff's installation work has influenced other artists, including Jessica Stockholder and Sarah Sze.[15]

Other media[edit]

In addition to her installations, Pfaff creates paintings, sculpture and prints. "I've always done prints and drawings," Pfaff says. "If you get an installation of mine, you inherit [my assistant] Ryan, myself, a crew, the dog, the noise, the dirt. We wreck the house. So if you don't want that, then you get prints and drawings." [16]

Pfaff has also done scenic design.[13] In 2010 Ameringer/McEnery/Yoke showed a retrospective from her oeuvre ranging from the late 1970s to recent work. In a review in The Brooklyn Rail, Kara L. Rooney wrote of the survey's cohesion, "somehow, Pfaff's eclectic interpretation of '80s flamboyance, '90s insecurity, and the aughts' incessant optimism succeeds."[17]


Pfaff taught at the California Institute of the Arts from 1976 to 1979.[18] She joined the faculty at Bard College in New York in 1994,[13] where she is currently the co-director of the Studio Arts program.[19]


  • 2015: "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present", Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida.[20]
  • 2014: "Run Amok," site-specific installation, Loretta Howard Gallery, New York, NY.[21]
  • 1995: "Elephant," site-specific installation, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA[22]
  • 1991: "Milagro," site-specific installation, Max Protetch gallery, New York, NY.[11]
  • 1990: "Straw into Gold," site-specific installation, Max Protetch gallery, New York, NY.[11]
  • 1987: "NYC--BQU," site-specific installation, Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Judy Pfaff . Biography . Documentary Film". Art21. PBT. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  2. ^ "MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved 2018-04-11. 
  3. ^ "Fellows Judy Pfaff". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved April 10, 2018. 
  4. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Annual Report 1986" (PDF). National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved April 10, 2018. 
  5. ^ a b Sandler, Irving; Panczenko, Russell (2003). "Judy Pfaff". 
  6. ^ "Saint Louis Art Museum Exhibition Archive". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Bard College professor Judy Pfaff elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Yoyogi, detail". Flickr. Retrieved 2018-04-08. 
  9. ^ a b Princenthal, Nancy (2013). Judy Pfaff: Storming the White Cube, in After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. Munich: Prestel. p. 127. ISBN 978-3-7913-4755-4. 
  10. ^ "Judy Pfaff Bard College" Archived 2012-03-21 at the Wayback Machine.. Plaxo.com.
  11. ^ a b c d Heartney, Eleanor; Posner, Helaine; Princenthal, Nancy; Scott, Sue (2007). After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York: Prestel. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-3-7913-3732-6. 
  12. ^ "Buckets of Rain". The Georgia Review. 62 (3 (FALL 2008)): 523–532. 2008. JSTOR 41403026. 
  13. ^ a b c Genocchio, Benjamin (May 22, 2005). "Now She Can Finish That Warehouse". New York Times. 
  14. ^ Castro, Jan Garden (2008). "New York: Judy Pfaff: Ameringer Yohe Fine Art". Sculpture. 27: 70–71 – via EBSCOhost. 
  15. ^ Kardon, Dennis (2015). "Judy Pfaff". Art in America. 103: 90 – via Ebsco. 
  16. ^ Mahoney, Brian K. (March 1, 2007). "Portfolio: Judy Pfaff". Chronogram Magazine. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  17. ^ Rooney, Kara L. (October 2010). "Judy Pfaff: Five Decades". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  18. ^ Richards, Judith. "Oral history interview with Judy Pfaff, 2010 Jan. 27-Feb. 4". Archives of American Art. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  19. ^ "Academics / Faculty : Judy Pfaff, Richard B. Fisher Professor in the Arts; Codirector, Studio Arts Program". Bard College. 
  20. ^ "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present - Museum of Fine Arts". www.fine-arts.org. Retrieved 2016-01-16. 
  21. ^ "Judy Pfaff: Run Amok | Loretta Howard Gallery". www.lorettahoward.com. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  22. ^ "Rose Art Museum Exhibitions 1961-2009" (PDF). Retrieved March 5, 2016. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Heartney, Eleanor; Posner, Helaine; Princenthal, Nancy; Scott, Sue (2013). After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. Prestel Publishing Ltd. pp. 126–153. ISBN 978-3-7913-4755-4.