b. 1966, United States

Paul Pfeiffer Biography

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.

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Early Years

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.

Paul Pfeiffer Artworks

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Pfeiffer's audiovisual installations utilise a variety of screens and projectors (many of which are custom-made from outdated technology) to show altered scenes from live sporting events, concerts, publicity shots, and TV game shows.

'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse'

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.

Awards and Accolades

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.

Pfeiffer features in major public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and MUSAC in León, Spain.


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

Paul Pfeiffer
featured artworks

Desiderata 2017 by Paul Pfeiffer contemporary artwork moving image
Paul Pfeiffer Desiderata 2017, 2018 Digital video loop, fabricated steel monitor with embedded media player, marble, wood
89 x 57 cm
Perrotin Request Price & Availability
Desiderata 1972 - 1974 by Paul Pfeiffer contemporary artwork moving image
Paul Pfeiffer Desiderata 1972 - 1974, 2018 Digital video loop, fabricated aluminium monitor with embedded media player
11 x 34 cm
Perrotin Request Price & Availability
Live Evil (Amsterdam) by Paul Pfeiffer contemporary artwork moving image
Paul Pfeiffer Live Evil (Amsterdam), 2018 Digital video loop, 2.5'' LCD screen in custom 3D printed , painted, resin shell, media player
7 x 9 cm
Perrotin Request Price & Availability
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (8) by Paul Pfeiffer contemporary artwork photography
Paul Pfeiffer Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (8), 2003 - 2018 Matte C-print
192 x 156 cm
Not for sale
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Perrotin contemporary art gallery in Paris Marais, France
Perrotin Dubai, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Seoul +2

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