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Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, and More

Paul Pfeiffer Turns ‘Pop’ Into ‘Art’

By Julie J. Hong

Staff Writer

Paul Pfeiffer Exhibit

Feb. 6 - April 6, 2003

MIT List Visual Arts Center

If you haven’t yet seen the Paul Pfeiffer exhibit at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, don’t miss your chance. In a series of photographs, sculptures, and video, Pfeiffer, who is currently an artist-in-residence at MIT, examines the presence and absence of identity with subjects often taken from popular culture.

His photographic works, collectively titled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, employs erasure as a tool to consider this idea of present and absent identity. The photographs are digitally modified and feature either the removal of Marilyn Monroe or altered images of basketball players. In the Marilyn Monroe photos, not only does he extract her image, he makes the background abstract and shifts the focus, originally Monroe, to the surrounding space, which is hauntingly empty. On the contrary, the photographs of basketball players are digitally edited to remove the surrounding players, thus centralizing the focus on a single player. However, Pfeiffer eliminates the identity of the player by erasing his name and number on his jersey.

Pfeiffer explores the idea of presence and absence on another level with ghosts and spirits, which are there ... but not. In Poltergeist, Pfeiffer transfers a two dimensional image of precariously stacked chairs on a kitchen table, taken from a scene in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror film of the same title, into a three dimensional mini diorama.

Dutch Interior combines a video projection and diorama to recreate a room from the set of the film The Amityville Horror (1979), in which an average American family moves into a possessed house. On Pfeiffer’s set, however, the viewer is like a ghost in the room; furthermore, when the viewer peeks through the screen of the projection to see the diorama, the oils from the viewers’ faces eventually form a face, producing another “ghost.”

Pfeiffer’s video work primarily manipulates sporting events. In Race Riot, he loops a short clip of Michael Jordan struggling on a basketball court, creating an endless hypnotic stream of bodily contortion. Corner Piece features a boxer in his corner in between rounds; however, the central figure, the boxer, has been replaced by spatial recession. Live Evil, rather than featuring an athlete, is a video of a dancing Michael Jackson. But, much like the title, Pfeiffer splits Jackson in half and reflects the image, producing an eerie dancing Rorschach-esque figure.

The highlight of the exhibition is the mesmeric Morning After the Deluge, an 18-minute video in which Pfeiffer juxtaposes sunrise and sunset. Pfeiffer defies the conventions of horizon by creating a moving horizon made of rippling waves, allowing the sun to simultaneously rise and set while remaining constant in position.

Let’s face it: the quality of “art” can be dubious, and “modern” is practically synonymous with unintelligible. You can call this whatever you want, but you can’t deny that it’s cool.