Plain paper in the hands of an artist can become magical, and that’s what visitors will see when Drawn, Cut & Layered: The Art of Werner Pfeiffer opens Feb. 6, 2015 at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Nearly 200 one-of-a-kind and limited edition artist books, dimensional prints, collages and experimental works on paper by Pfeiffer, including some seen in public for the first time, will be shown.
“What really stands out is how diversely creative and productive Werner Pfeiffer is,” said Toledo Museum of Art Director Brian Kennedy. “Because of the caliber of his creativity, we felt he deserved a major exhibition. This is the first exhibition that centers solely on his artist books and works on paper.”
Pfeiffer has used paper as both a canvas and a structural material for the past 50 years. As a sculptor, printmaker and painter, he is fascinated with machines and machine-like constructions. His drawings are schematic and his complex books have intricate moving parts.
Those influences and a fascination with puzzles, metaphors and word play have inspired works that are thought-provoking in themselves, said exhibition curator Thomas Loeffler, who became aware of Pfeiffer when one of his works came to the Museum as part of a book collection 30 years ago.
“When people see these works all together we hope they will be inspired to take the time to be creative themselves,” Loeffler said.
Among works in the show are Hocus Pocus, an homage to Dada, an artistic movement born out of negative reaction to the horrors of World War I that rejected reason and instead prized nonsense and irrationality; Zig Zag, a book in which Pfeiffer investigates the nature of paper, creating a double accordion fold to show that “paper is not only a surface but has architectural structure;” and The Banana Drawings, a series of drawings with seven basic images that reoccur in different configurations, in a combination of drawing and silkscreen prints.
Also on view will be Liber Mobile, in which the alphabet becomes a visual element. The piece was inspired by the writings of Marshall McLuhan (who famously pointed out that “the medium is the message” in the 1960s). The letterforms simulate interpretive content, suggesting legibility, but the artwork is simply an interaction of form and color.
While influenced by his contemporaries, Pfeiffer’s earliest memories of life in Germany during and after World War II have impacted his work the most. “There was no paper; there were no books. Censorship was everywhere. Since childhood I’ve always been sensitive to what is being done to books and with books,” the 77-year-old artist has said.
Drawn, Cut & Layered will be on view Feb. 6–May 3, 2015 in TMA’s Canaday Gallery. The exhibition is made possible by Museum members and in part by funding through the Ohio Arts Council sustainability grant program. Admission to the exhibition and to the Museum is free. For more information, visit toledomuseum.org.
About the Artist
A resident of Red Hook, New York, Pfeiffer was born in 1937 in Stuttgart, Germany. After immigrating to the United States in 1961, he pursued a career in design and art direction, becoming an art professor at Pratt Institute and director of the Pratt Adlib Press in 1969. He retired from Pratt in 2002.
His books, collages, drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures have been shown in more than 100 group exhibitions and over 70 solo shows internationally. His award-winning designs have been widely published in magazines such as Print, Modern Publicity and Art Direction. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), among others.
The exhibition catalog produced by TMA is a multimedia e-book containing an exhibition checklist; an essay by Pfeiffer explaining the role of paper in his art and the influence of the digital age; videos of Pfeiffer speaking about and demonstrating his work; a video conversation between the artist and the Museum’s director; and an interactive animation of one of his artist books. “It’s perhaps ironic to create an e-book for an artist who uses paper as his primary medium, but it gives us the opportunity to better show the nature of Pfeiffer’s books, which are meant to be handled and unfolded. It’s an interactive way to digitally demonstrate how his books move and re-form,” said Paula Reich, head of interpretative projects and managing editor.