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“Mother of Installation Art” Judy Pfaff Gives a Glimpse Into a Storied Career


“Some of you may be asking, 'Why a lecture in contemporary art when there are so many difficult problems in our world?’” Professor of Studio Art and Chair of the Art and Art History Department, Paul Ryan (C'77) said as he kicked off the second lecture ​​of the Schmidt Family Lecture Series in Contemporary Art.

“The processes of making art and appreciating art can be very difficult. And because the human experience itself is difficult, making and appreciating art helps us to grapple with difficulty. It helps us to overcome and work through difficulty,” Ryan shared with the full house of Wanamaker Hall.

Regarded as a major pioneer of installation art, Judy Pfaff is no stranger to difficulty in both her art and human experience. Pfaff revealed to the audience of current Principia students, alumni, and local community members how she journeyed from a childhood of minimal family support to attending Yale, and finally, to the world-renowned artist we know her as today. With an artistic career spanning more than five decades, Pfaff's work traverses various disciplines with remarkable fluidity. She embraces the roles of painter, sculptor, carpenter, welder, glassblower, printmaker, and designer, unafraid to tackle multiple mediums.

Attendees marveled as Pfaff gave them a glimpse into some of the more than 100 solo exhibitions she has had in the United States and abroad. She offered the backstory and inspiration behind her intricate structures; some were influenced by experiences and interests in her personal life, while others directly reflected worldly events and issues. It was clear to the audience that Pfaff and her work favor diversity, inclusivity, and complexity, as she never limited herself to one medium or one source of inspiration.

When the floor was opened up to questions from Pfaff’s eager listeners, she was asked what is currently driving her creations. Pfaff explained that she sees her art as a way to continue her education, stating, “Everything just keeps evolving. I think that I was so bad in school that now what I do educates me.”

Judy Pfaff's captivating lecture and profound insights into contemporary art left an indelible mark on the night’s attendees. Through her mastery of diverse mediums and unwavering dedication to her craft, Pfaff embodies the transformative power of artistic expression. As Principia continues to champion the arts as a vital component of its curriculum, Pfaff's visit serves as an invigorating reminder of the boundless possibilities inherent in creative exploration.