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Judy Pfaff | Museum of New Art Portsmouth

smokkfiskur: a tale

Often cited as a pioneer of installation-art and contributor to the Pattern and Decoration Movement (P&D), Judy Pfaff creates work that spans disciplines and eschews definition. She represented the US in the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal and is the recipient of many awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center (2014), the MacArthur Foundation Award (2004), and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1983). Pfaff lives and works in Tivoli, New York.

Judy Pfaff's painting in space takes a step further at MONA. Here are themes here of water rising and also receding, themes of the sea, ice, especially Icelandic—Smokkfiskur, the Icelandic word for “squid”, serves up mysteries that hint at submerged life counterbalanced by life made newly visible.

Portsmouth, lying between a river and the sea, is an ideal place to celebrate this tale.

Life beneath the surface is a long, evolving theme of Pfaff's. Here, for the first time, she includes new exploration of ceramics. Collapsed and twisted, these pots merge with sea life relics as exposed marine sedimentary layers similar to the palimpsest play in her printworks.

Water is changing our world. Sea levels are rising; artic lakes are vanishing. This upwelling of ancient history and covert creatures also stokes joy and curiosity. While the front gallery displays undersea emergence, the middle gallery invites emotional immersion served up and brightly lit with ingenious imagination. The rear gallery teases with secrets. Here, above sea level, there are hints of glaciers and things that float, bleached by the sun or frozen and preserved.

Judy Pfaff invites us see to Mare Nostrum, our shared sea.

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