Judy Pfaff

Judy Pfaff is often hailed as a pioneer of installation art, a title that captures only a fragment of her expansive and evolving career. Born in London in 1946, Pfaff’s creative journey began in earnest with her BFA from Washington University in Saint Louis in 1971, followed by an MFA from Yale University in 1973, where she studied under Al Held.

Pfaff’s work transcends traditional boundaries, incorporating elements of painting, printmaking, sculpture, and installation. She has become renowned for her “spatial paintings”—installations that transform and inhabit their environments, creating immersive experiences for viewers. Drawing on spiritual, botanical, and art historical imagery, Pfaff’s installations evoke the grandeur of cathedrals and the ephemeral nature of mandalas. Each piece is meticulously crafted to interact with the specific spatial geometry of its setting, ensuring that no two installations are alike.

Throughout her distinguished career, Pfaff has received numerous accolades and participated in several prestigious exhibitions:

  • Whitney Biennials (1975, 1981, 1987)
  • Sao Paulo Bienal (1998), representing the United States
  • Permanent collections in notable institutions including MOMA, Whitney Museum of Art, Tate Gallery, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Detroit Institute of Arts.

Her contributions to the art world have been recognized with numerous awards:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center (2014)
  • MacArthur Foundation Award (2004)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship (1983)

Pfaff’s work is characterized by a tenacious generosity, often involving months or years of labor for installations that last only days or weeks. This dedication sets her apart from peers who rely on the sale of discrete objects. Despite the ephemeral nature of her creations, Pfaff’s installations leave a lasting impact, refusing to be confined by narrative meaning and focusing instead on the visual and tactile experience.

Living and working in Tivoli, New York, Pfaff continues to push the boundaries of contemporary art, challenging and inspiring new generations of artists.

Judy Pfaff, yasai o tabete kudasai, 2024

Judy Pfaff, Weeping, 2024

Judy Pfaff, White Light, 2004

Judy Pfaff, When the Moon is Full, 2002

Judy Pfaff, A Day or Part of Day, 1998