Collagist in space

Judy Pfaff is one of the most celebrated artists of her generation, known for crafting large-scale installations that combine local materials with elements of painting, sculpture and architecture.

In October Pfaff — a 1971 graduate of Washington University — will return to St. Louis to discuss her work for the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ fall Visiting Artist Lecture Series.

A detail from Judy Pfaff's 2003 installation
A detail from Judy Pfaff’s 2003 installation “Neither Here Nor There” at the Ameringer/Yohe Gallery in New York. Pfaff, a graduate of Washington University, is one of the most acclaimed installation artists working today. She will speak about her work Oct. 11 for the Sam Fox school’s Visiting Artis Lecture Series.

Born in London, Pfaff moved to the United States at age 13 and studied in Michigan and Illinois before receiving her BFA degree from the University. In 1973 she earned an MFA degree from Yale University and staged her first solo exhibition at the Razor Gallery in New York. In the years since, she has mounted more than 100 one-person shows and installations and participated in more than 200 group exhibitions.

Though Pfaff calls herself a “dyed-in-the-wool abstractionist,” she frequently draws imagery and inspiration from the physical world: the way light falls, the branches of a tree, the intricate patterns of antique lace doilies. Working largely on-site, she incorporates both found and fabricated elements — ranging from steel, fiberglass and driftwood to vines, blown glass and neon-colored string — to create dizzyingly elaborate structures. The feeling is at once transparent and densely packed, as if the viewer had physically entered a painting or drawing.

“Do you know the way a child imagines what an artist or moviemaker does? Like at the beginning of Disney films, where they take a single paintbrush and with a single stroke create a full-color, sparkling scene? That’s what I’m after,” Pfaff said in a 2005 interview with Washington University Magazine. “My whole life is about the labor, but I want my work to seem magical when it’s done, like a vision that transports people.”

Today Pfaff’s work can be found in such prestigious collections as the Detroit Institute of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art. Her numerous awards include a 2004 MacArthur “genius” Fellowship as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and many others.

Pfaff currently serves as professor and co-chair of art at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and as artist-in-residence at the Hui Noieau Visual Arts Center in Maui, Hawaii.

The talk is free and open to the public and begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. For more information visit or call 935-9300.