On the Moving Edge

Selections from DUMA
June 1, 2002

 


Test for Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion               by Paul Pfeiffer, video triptych: videotapes, three paper screens,               projector, metal armature, 2000

Test for Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion by Paul Pfeiffer, video triptych: videotapes, three paper screens, projector, metal armature, 2000.


In January 2000, the Duke University Museum of Art showed this intriguing work-in-progress, along with two other pieces by artist Paul Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer, born in 1966 in Honolulu, raised in the Philippines, studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. He had just finished a fellowship at the Whitney Independent artists program. After the show, the museum acquired the piece, thanks to the generosity of Blake Byrne '57. One month later, Pfeiffer was selected for the prestigious 2000 Whitney Biennial and included in the even trendier P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center's Greater New York show.

Since then, his career has soared. Positive reviews proclaiming his work to be the cutting edge of digitalized video art appeared in such publications as The Village Voice, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and even Newsweek. The art world recognized he was on to something; Pfeiffer was chosen for the Whitney's first $100,000 Bucksbaum Award for his work in the 2000 Biennial.

The artist has not slowed down since. New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote in a January review: "Paul Pfeiffer... thinks big but works small, producing short, digitally altered video loops on tiny monitors. The results could be about many things: dramatic spectacle as psychological projection, racial invisibility, sexual charge, homoeroticism. With his tightly controlled fusion of found images and new technology, Pfeiffer has carved out distinctive territory. The hands-on, hands-off format he has developed--he has turned video into a precious object, something compact, dense, and tightly textured--is clearly a fertile one. And like Andy Warhol, whom he is said to admire, he seems to know that he has the whole abject, visionary spectrum of American popular culture as raw material."

DUMA's work, Test for Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, directly refers to a 1944 triptych of the same title by English painter Francis Bacon. Pfeiffer, who says his work is a continuation of the great painting traditions, presents us with three figures, actors from commercial films. They are abstracted from their surroundings and plots and placed against a uniformly colored backdrop--the same device used by Bacon.

Through intensive editing and computer manipulation, a slip-second moment in each film, obsessively repeated, represents a form of physical and psychological torment: the struggle for bodily control in The Nutty Professor; death, agony, and a cry for mother in Saving Private Ryan; and sexual ecstasy in Showgirls. We are invited to contemplate these moving and standing-still images, to connect them to each other, to past art and contemporary art forms made possible by new technologies, to place them in the context of our understanding of our world.