Polly Apfelbaum: Waiting for the UFOs (a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers)
19 September — 18 November 2018
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Ikon presents a major exhibition of new and recent work by internationally renowned New York-based artist Polly Apfelbaum. Featuring large-scale colourful installations of textiles, ceramics and drawings, Apfelbaum’s artistic practice is framed within wider sociological and political contexts, and the legacy of post-war American art.
The exhibition title comes from the 1970s song Waiting for the UFOs by British singer-songwriter Graham Parker, recalling the vast empty spaces of the American landscape and the characters who anxiously anticipate extra-terrestrial visits. This is combined with surrealist René Magritte’s definition of a garden as “a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers” and makes reference to his extraordinary landscape painting The Plagiarism (1940). The idea of appropriation is explored through Apfelbaum’s use of allusion and quotation, blurring the lines drawn between popular culture, or craft, and high art.
At Ikon, a frieze of yellow and orange stripes foils a line of more than a hundred unique ceramic targets (2018), each named after a constellation. Whilst they may reference abstract artists, such as Kenneth Noland or Jasper Johns, they also nod to folk art, dart boards or circular irrigation patterns seen in aerial views of the American Midwest. Apfelbaum’s approach illustrates a sensitivity to site, scale and architectural setting and at Ikon she apprehends the gallery space as a landscape, populated by both her work and visitors to the exhibition.
Further works, large hand-woven rugs (2018) with broad bands of rainbow colours in circles, stripes and waves again gesture towards a landscape or garden. These are seen at Ikon surrounded by Target Drawings (2018), a series of drawings gouache on paper, concentric circles of fake flowers such as Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions) (1990/2018) and suspended rows of glazed ceramic beads.
Placing emphasis on essential formal qualities, especially colour and texture, Apfelbaum asserts the importance of popular culture and craft activity whilst subtly assuming a political and feminist position – challenging pomposity, notions of entitlement and hierarchies in cultural practice, to promote social equality.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue including essays by curator/writers Glenn Adamson and Alhena Katsof, a limited edition tray and tea towel, plus a public programme of talks and events.