Interviewed by: Suzan Sherman and Daniel Wentworth
Shot and edited by: Melissa Friedling/Slouch Productions

The Artist’s Life: Polly Apfelbaum

Polly Apfelbaum’s professed love of “visual overload… visual extravaganza” is manifest everywhere in her four-decade body of work. As a young artist in New York in the ’70s, she drew inspiration from diverse styles, blending Pop’s intense colors and cartoonish shapes with Abstract Expressionist modes of pigment application such as dripping and staining as well as Minimalism’s use of serially arranged modular forms. Her primary material is fabric, chosen for its portability, mutability, and softness, as well as its associations with the body and “women’s work.” In the early ’90s she hit upon her signature technique of creating highly complex and labor-intensive installations—termed “fallen paintings” by critics—made up of many pieces of hand-dyed fabric carefully arranged on the floor. Recently, she has introduced what she calls a performative aspect to her installations, creating them on-site by cutting improvised, irregular shapes from sequined stretch fabrics. She has also begun bodies of work in drawing and ceramics, and returned to printmaking, her college major, after a 25-year hiatus.

Polly greeted us in her live-work loft at the South Street Seaport and regaled us with stories of when she and her husband moved into the building 33 years ago, its window casements empty of glass. Back then, packs of wild cats and dogs stalked the area and fishmongers filled the bar across the street after their graveyard shifts. Polly spoke with us about beauty’s deceptive complexity, her continued fascination with the floor as an irreverent and physically engaging site for artwork, and the thoughts behind her playful, pop culture-inspired titles—Powerpuff and The Dwarves without Snow White among them. She showed us some of her earliest works as well as her latest creations, Feely Feeley Feelies, psychedelic compositions of stripes, polka dots, and irregular checkerboards that were mouthwatering despite having been made from small slabs of unfired polymer clay.

Polly Apfelbaum was born in 1955 in Abington, PA, and received her BFA from Tyler School of Art. She has shown her work consistently in the United States and internationally since her first one-person show in 1986. In 2003, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia mounted a major mid-career survey of her work, which was accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue and which traveled to theContemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO. Recent solo exhibitions include Haunted HouseAtelier Amden, Switzerland; Off ColourD’Amelio Terras, New York; and Anything Can Happen in a Horse RaceMilton Keynes Gallery, UK. Her work is included in the collections of theMuseum of Modern ArtWhitney MuseumBrooklyn MuseumPhiladelphia Museum, and Dallas Museum of Art among others. She has lived and worked in New York City since 1978.

Amy Aronoff
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