History of Sculpture

Art News -John Sturman
January 1989

The 13 paintings in this show belong to Judy Rifka's "History of Sculpture" series, and they blend many polar opposites past and present, classicism and modernism, figure and ground, abstraction and representation, great art and commercial illustration in an unusual, provocative manner. While the titles Acroterium, Athena Nike, Victory at Samothrace reflect their classical inspiration, the canvases resonate with echoes of Constructivism and the street- smart sensibilities of the East Village. Rifka fuses these far-flung influences to create a bold style all her own.

Particularly striking here is Rifka's palette, which consists solely of black, white, and gray, with an occasional muted taupe or tan. Although the avoidance of color may seem somewhat obsessive, it has the unquestionable advantage of directing the viewer's attention to the content of the work. Applying many thin layers of acrylic paint to simulate a densely collaged effect, Rifka relies heavily on visually recurring elements geometric shapes, the templates from which these forms appear to have been cut, profiles of Greek goddesses, and what look like hastily drawn Magic-Marker sketches of classical architecture and sculpture. These motifs give the paintings a strong sense of unity and coherence both individually and as a series.

There is also a satisfying alliance of subject matter and technique the complex layers of paint neatly parallel the almost archeological way in which classical elements turn up amid the abstract forms. In Laborde Head, for example, a goddess in profile lies among the geometric forms and cutout templates. In Fragments of Nike, a similar head seems to have been cut out of a white square, which is superimposed over a profusion of other shapes.

It is almost as if Rifka has strewn the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle across these canvases. With their mixture of the classical and the modem, these are perfect postmodern puzzles for the viewer to put together.
-John Sturman