Polly Apfelbaum - 20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York New York Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Polly Apfelbaum has garnered critical acclaim as one of the most unique and influential artists of her generation. Her oeuvre is defined by a jovial aesthetic that subverts conventional ideas of making and experiencing art while remaining salient between a spectrum of mediums, including textiles and ceramics. 


    “It’s a hybrid – I don’t like categories, and I think many things can be art. It’s trying to be very open to materials and ideas. It’s experiential in that I am still experimenting and learning. I learn from the material itself, paying attention to what it wants to do.” i
    —Polly Apfelbaum


    Black Widow, 1995, serves as a prominent example of the meticulous attention to material, color and pattern that have become synonymous with Apfelbaum’s art. A white bed sheet is adorned with circular pieces of dyed velvet interspersed between ink blots, creating a matrix of rounded shapes of differing sizes that encroach upon one another but never overlap. The interplay between the elevated spots of velvet and the ink blots fully saturated into the fabric is framed by thin bands of stark white negative space acting as a constant barrier between the two. The topographic fluctuations and recursive nature of the work create a palpable. Confined to the limits of the bed sheet, Apfelbaum’s pattern in Black Widow seems to be brimming with potential energy.  



    Apfelbaum uses her work to explore ideas of gender norms within the framework of the art world. She notes that many of the materials and mediums she employs have been historically seen as women’s crafts.ii She subverts these antiquated stereotypes by employing those same materials and techniques to create works that challenge traditional delineations between painting and sculpture. In turn her work brings to the forefront questions regarding the methods in which art is experienced, asking viewers to contemplate the difference between craftsmanship and artistry.


    The idea of domesticity is particularly pertinent to Apfelbaum’s work. Her frequent use of found household objects, such as the bedsheet in the present lot, as well as her practice of displaying her work on the floor collapses the perceived barrier between home and gallery. Her art encourages viewers to reconsider this separation by highlighting the innovation and creativity borne from conflating the two spaces.


    The present lot simultaneously exemplifies Apfelbaum’s scrupulous creative process as well as the socially conscious messages that propel her art. She acknowledges the significance of imbuing art with social meaning, stating, “There’s a split between the very formal and then the narrative. It’s the narrative that gives the work a push.”iii



    Polly Apfelbaum, quoted in Marie-Sophie Müller, “In the Studio: Polly Apfelbaum, Elizaville, New York,” Collector’s Agenda, 2022, online.

    ii Ibid.

    iii Polly Apfelbaum, quoted in Stephen Westfall, “Polly Apfelbaum,” Bomb Magazine, no. 27, April 1, 1989, online.

    • Provenance

      Studio La Città, Verona
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Verona, Studio La Città, Onomatopoeia, July 5–September 27, 1997


Black Widow

velvet and dye on bedsheet
93 1/8 x 65 1/8 in. (236.5 x 165.4 cm)
Executed in 1994.

Full Cataloguing

$6,000 - 8,000 

Contact Specialist

Katerina Blackwood
Associate Specialist, Head of Online Sales, New York
20th Century & Contemporary Art
+1 212 940 1248

20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York

7 - 14 December 2023