Polly Apfelbaum at Alexander Gray Associates

Best known for ‘paintings’ composed of hundreds of cut pieces of colorful cloth arranged on the floor, Polly Apfelbaum has expanded to the walls with colorful, abstract ceramic panels that complement carpets bearing a graphic from a 1963 book titled ‘The Potential of Woman.’ Though the female heads on the floor have no mouth (having been spoken for in the book), the riotously colorful wall-mounted ceramic sculptures – which Apfelbaum explains are like portraits – have plenty to say. (At Alexander Gray Associates in Chelsea through Oct 21st).

Polly Apfelbaum, installation view of ‘The Potential of Women,’ at Alexander Gray Associates, Sept 2017.

Polly Apfelbaum, “Off Colour” at D’Amelio Terras


Polly Apfelbaum, "Off Colour" installation view. Photograph courtesy of D'Amelio Terras, New York.

Polly Apfelbaum is in rebellion. Unlike the pleasing forms and intricate color schemes of the floor-based fabric arrangements she’s known for, her latest installation of jagged panels in sequined cloth is attention-grabbing but jarring. Off Colour derives its title and loud appearance from amateur nude photos that Apfelbaum found at a London flea market, suggesting a futile attempt at titillation.

At previous shows Apfelbaum had brought in work crafted in her workshop, but this installation was made directly in the gallery. The result—slender fabric strips extending into the corners or hugging columns—could barely be termed a response to this unremarkable space, though the artist has upended expectations by diverting our attention from the walls to the floor. Still, tiptoeing between the zones of crimson, pink, yellow, green and orange (that a sign warns us not to touch) is more awkward than absorbing; the scheme is so calculated that it discourages any desire for interaction.

On the plus side, the panels’ rough edges, geometry and scattered appearance recall Jean Arp’s torn-paper collages, and look like they might harbor some sort of meaningful relationship between the shapes and the negative spaces they create. Unfortunately, a more concrete reading is elusive, as if Apfelbaum had deliberately left behind a self-conscious collection of isolated parts that, like her source photos, lead us on but give us no satisfaction.

Originally published in Time Out New York, issue 785, October 14-20, 2010.