Words, Sex, Landscape: Marcia Hafif at Fergus McCaffrey, New York

Through June 25

Installation view of "Marcia Hafif: The Italian Paintings, 1961-1969," 2016, at Fergus McCaffrey, New York.©MARCIA HAFIF/COURTESY FERGUS MCCAFFREY

Installation view of “Marcia Hafif: The Italian Paintings, 1961-1969,” 2016, at Fergus McCaffrey, New York.


Oh, to be a time traveler, making regular forays into the 1960s and ’70s, when there seemed to be less marketplace pressure and artists felt free to take imaginative chances, experiment uninhibitedly with materials and forms, and be more quietly speculative.

Exemplifying the spirit of the era are the almost 50 forthright and vividly colored abstract paintings and works on paper that Marcia Hafif created in Rome between 1961 and 1969.

The acrylic paints she began working with at the time strangely gave the images a sculptural effect: solid color equated with solid form. The combination of two and three dimensions in one work or image has affinities with the sculpture of Ken Price, whom Hafif acknowledged in an interview with Phong Bui in the Brooklyn Rail. What impressed her were his “little sculptures…some in a box” that she saw in a 1961 show.

Marcia Hafif, 161., 1967, acrylic on canvas, 55⅛ x 55⅛ inches. ©MARCIA HAFIF/COURTESY FERGUS MCCAFFREY

Marcia Hafif, 161., 1967, acrylic on canvas, 55⅛ x 55⅛ inches.


For Hafif, who did graduate work in the Italian Renaissance and Far Eastern Art, that history is deeply embedded in her paintings, which reflect the affinities between Europe and the East, especially in the rich coloring and architectural allusions.

Such translation extends to literary evocations as well, with images that evoke words and poetry in their rhythms and shapes, much in the way words can convey the idea of images, and the shape, as in concrete poetry.

Especially striking in the exhibition are nine paintings, all with numerical titles, that instantly call to mind geometric, Minimalist, and Pop works. These are being shown in the United States for the first time. Hafif’s 161. (1967), an acrylic on canvas, exemplifies the simultaneous drama, wit, and subtlety of the artist’s paintings as well as their sexual provocativeness. The enigmatic red mound that rises up against the green backdrop is such a sensual form that it might even be viewed as an orgasmic surge. Or, on the other hand, a head.

Beyond sex, landscape inhabits these works as well—natural shapes in the landscape as objects. The paintings express a strong, physical sense of place. After living in Rome for eight years, Hafif moved back to her native California, and the nature and spirit of those locales are fully apparent in the flatness and brightness, ease and clarity, of these lively seductive paintings.

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