Whether depicting boxers fighting invisible opponents or a headless, ethereal Michael Jackson dancing, New York-based artist Paul Pfeiffer's digital manipulations explore how media shapes perceptions of the world and ourselves. His installations presenting altered footage and imagery from sporting events, cinema, and television have been shown internationally.Read More
Born in Honolulu, Paul Pfeiffer spent much of his early life in the Philippines, before moving back to the United States. After completing a BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1987, Pfeiffer moved to New York, where he now lives and works. He completed an MFA at Hunter College in 1994, and later participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Programme from 1997 to 1998.
In 2000, Pfeiffer's early work Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon) (1999) won him the Whitney's first Bucksbaum Award. Referencing Francis Bacon's 1944 crucifixion triptych, the work presented a scene from a televised basketball game, in which many of the players are rendered as ghostly figures.
Combining video, photography, sculpture, and sound art, Paul Pfeiffer's audiovisual installations utilise a variety of screens and projectors (many of which are custom-made from outdated technology) to show altered scenes from live sporting events, concerts, publicity shots, and TV game shows.
In the enduring photographic series 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (2000—2018), Pfeiffer removes contextual details to redirect the emphasis of the image. Beginning with publicity shots of Marilyn Monroe, Pfeiffer often removes the central figure of an image to emphasise others, later turning his attention to the NBA archives.
In his basketball images, the artist removes contextual details like other players, team names and numbers on jerseys, and commercial branding to alter the image's emphasis. While critics have called this 'erasure', Pfeiffer describes his approach in an interview with Art21 as 'camouflage'.
In one work, Pfeiffer adapts an image of basketballer Wilt Chamberlain scoring surrounded by defenders. Removing all players including Chamberlain, Pfeiffer takes one of the defenders on the margins of the photograph and puts him alone in the centre of the court, with no ball or basket.
These basketball themes extend to video manipulations too. For the earlier video work John 3:16 (2000), Pfeiffer reprocessed 5000 digital frames of a televised basketball game, carefully removing the athletes from the film and leaving only their hands on the ball. The viewer is forced to constantly follow the movement of the ball on a miniature LCD monitor used to present the work.
Paul Pfeiffer's video series 'Caryatid' (2003—ongoing) presents a series of sporting scenes with subtracted elements and is shown on retro television sets which the artist specially modifies. Starting with hockey, the first work in the series uses footage of the Stanley Cup being held up by the winning team; except, the players are digitally removed from the work to emphasise the symbolic significance of the trophy.
Paul Pfeiffer's boxing interests came to define later works in the series, presenting dramatic scenes of professional boxers seemingly struck by invisible opponents.
Another of Pfeiffer's video works to reference boxing, Three Figures In A Room (2015—2018) adapts coverage of the 2015 'Fight of the Century' match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The two-channel installation replaces the original soundtrack with one produced by Foley artists, which is shown being made on the second screen.
Not limited to the realm of sporting moments, Pfeiffer has brought his methodical post-production process to bear on various pop culture clips. Among them is footage of Michael Jackson performing his iconic dance moves, with digital manipulations transforming him to something beyond human, as well as pensive contestants from cult-classic quiz show The Price is Right.
Paul Pfeiffer's art has earned him various accolades, including the Whitney Museum of American Art's Bucksbaum Award (2000), The Alpert Award in the Arts in Visual Arts (2009), and fellowship with the American Academy in Berlin in 2011.
Paul Pfeiffer has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Desiderata, Perrotin, Paris (2018); Paul Pfeiffer: Screen Series, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2017); Paul Pfeiffer: Caryatids, Honolulu Museum of Art (2016); Vitruvian Figure, Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila (2015); Paul Pfeiffer: The Saints, Hamburger Bahnhof — Museum for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2009); and Morning after the Deluge, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2005).
Group exhibitions include Once Upon a Time Inconceivable, Protocinema, Istanbul (2021); Picture Industry: A Provisional History of the Technical Image, 1844—2018, LUMA, Arles (2018); The Beautiful Game, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014); The Luminous Interval, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2011); The Gold Standard, MoMA P.S.1, New York (2006); Bitstreams, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001); and Picturing Asia America: Communities, Culture, Difference, Houston Center for Photography, Houston, TX (1994).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021