Polly wants some color

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One of the nice things about being an art reviewer is getting to meet the artists and coming away with a sense of the human being behind the work. I’m not a formalist in my orientation anyway. In fact, I think formalist discussions about art kill it for most people. I’m for conveying the zip and the crackle — anything that will actually make it interesting enough for a viewer want to spend time with the art.

I met Polly Apfelbaum at the ICA before her retrospective opened. She took me through the show. A bouncy lady with a Prince Valiant bob and a nice sense of humor, she was a delight. Many of her concerns with art-making are formalist. She uses systems in her color-selection and she’s about breaking the barrier between painting and sculpture and about order and chance, serendipity and control.

But in addition, she’s all about people — and beauty. Her floor-bound work — which she invites open interpretation of — is rooted in a domesticity that is immediately accessible. The works look like rugs, flower petals, bones, cells, blankets, etc.

“Oblong,” a wallpaper piece made for the ICA show, gets the artist excited. “You have to do something new or you go crazy,” she said.

Apfelbaum calls the piece the world’s biggest painting.” It’s pure color system at work, (ovals of color starting with yellow and ending with black from floor to 2nd-floor ceiling) but since the dominant color is white, the thing has a ghostly quality. Unlike her other, more corporeal works, “Oblong” is a mirage.

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features & interviews, reviews

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