Hurricane Ian inspires Judy Pfaff exhibition in Sarasota

“Judy Pfaff: Picking up the Pieces,” the artist’s largest solo show since 2017, explores Hurricane Ian’s devastating impact on southern Florida. The septuagenarian artist’s hymn to the region’s natural beauty also expresses her affinity for nature. Pfaff watched coverage of the storm from her New York studio.

In preparation for her site-specific installation at the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design, she visited Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island in Florida for a first-hand look at what the storm left in its wake.

The hurricane, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm in September 2022, is among the slew of natural disasters that have struck with unprecedented intensity and frequency in recent years. In its aftermath, Pfaff encountered more than she expected.

The devastation triggered memories of her childhood in post-World War II London and also reminded her of life in New York City’s Tribeca after 9/11 when the city shut down and was blanketed with white dust from the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Pfaff’s site-specific environment expresses in her distinctive visual lexicon her powerful response to climate change and other events affecting us all.

“Seeing with my own eyes, the major impact Hurricane Ian had on the land and homes, completely shook me,” Judy Pfaff said. “In ‘Picking up the Pieces,’ I use ordinary materials and natural detritus to distill what I saw during my visit to Florida. Since moving to the Hudson Valley 10 years ago, I have become more aware of the wind, rain and sun in the extreme. Winter can be extremely fierce and harsh, and because of that, I repair and repurpose a lot of elements around me to put new life into them.”

The title, “Picking up the Pieces,” refers to putting life back together and rebuilding after a natural disaster, and it evokes a sense of hope and resiliency. At the same time, the words refer to Pfaff’s own artistic process and to her current stage in a prolific career that has already spanned five decades.

“Contemporary art explores modern-day issues and sparks dialogue that fosters understanding and change,” Virginia Shearer, executive director, Sarasota Art Museum, said. “Bringing artists like Judy Pfaff to Sarasota Art Museum affords us the opportunity to engage the community in conversations around important topics such as climate change. Pfaff’s artistic career had its beginnings in Sarasota, and her latest work acknowledges Florida’s beauty and its susceptibility to the effects of climate change.”

Judy Pfaff made her museum debut in Sarasota over 40 years ago. She later advocated to bring a contemporary art museum to the region when Sarasota Art Museum’s founders launched ARTmuse, a visiting artist program to support renovations that would transform the former high school into an art museum. She was among the first artists to participate in ARTmuse in 2009 to foster awareness for what would become Sarasota Art Museum. A year later, she returned to the former high school building to share a large-scale printing demonstration.

For this installation, Pfaff has recycled components of her older works from the 1980s and ’90s, now seamlessly incorporated into her brand-new two- and three-dimensional works that also respond to the unique architecture of Sarasota Art Museum, housed in the historic building that was once Sarasota High School.

Other new works include a translucent fiberglass boat made at her home studio and numerous glass pieces she created at Pilchuck Glass School this past summer.

About the exhibition

Judy Pfaff (American, born 1946). Installation view of "Judy Pfaff: Picking up the Pieces" at Sarasota Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida, 2023.
Judy Pfaff (American, born 1946). Installation view of “Judy Pfaff: Picking up the Pieces” at Sarasota Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida, 2023. Photo: Ryan Gamma.

Judy Pfaff divided “Picking up the Pieces” into two parts. The first section is bursting with energetic colors, dynamic forms and LED and neon lights. It celebrates the beauty and abundance of Florida’s nature with colorful and exuberant references to flowers, vegetation, fruit and light. The second section employs Pfaff’s characteristic visual language to grapple with the tumult of the storm and its aftermath.

The gallery includes an array of objects hoisted with pulleys in mid-air and scattered across the space. Optimism and a sense of hope and regeneration abound in the adjacent gallery to which visitors return before exiting. Throughout the installation, the artist inspires viewers to imagine using what remains to put life back together, a practice she calls “making lemonade.”

“Judy Pfaff sees the echo of an enormous wave in the shape of the galleries,” Rangsook Yoon, Ph.D., senior curator, Sarasota Art Museum, said. “The gallery in the center has a ceiling that soars 30 feet high, while two galleries flanking that space have lower ceilings. The artist used the Museum’s architectural elements to help inform her massive and electrifying installation that is rich with sensory stimuli. Pfaff’s distinctive visual language communicates, both directly and suggestively, global concerns about climate change.”

In characteristic style, Pfaff employs and transforms a wide array of elements from her garden as well as household and industrial objects. The exhibition includes paper lanterns, plastic rugs, resin-covered umbrellas, chairs, sunflower stems covered with silver spray paint, blown glass, neon and LED lights. She also routinely uses materials such as wood, welded steel, aluminum, Plexiglas, expanded foam, melted plastic and concrete-covered Styrofoam, among others. Her massive, emotionally charged environment invites viewers on an unforgettable and deeply moving visual journey through time and space.

About the Artist

Judy Pfaff’s artistic practice spans more than five decades. She has held more than 100 solo exhibitions in the United States and abroad and received numerous awards, including an International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2014), a MacArthur Fellowship (2004) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1983).

She represented the United States in the 1998 São Paulo Biennial, and her works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York) and Tate Britain (London), among others. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Washington University in St. Louis.

About the Museum

Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design is a dynamic laboratory for the exploration and advancement of contemporary art. As Sarasota’s only museum solely focused on contemporary artists and their work, Sarasota Art Museum offers visitors a place to see thought-provoking exhibitions and participate in education programs that start conversations and amplify the city’s creative spirit. 

Located in the historic Sarasota High School, Sarasota Art Museum opened to the public in 2019 and features 15,000 square feet of dedicated exhibition space, the outdoor Marcy & Michael Klein Plaza, the Great Lawn featuring temporary sculpture and site-specific installations, Bistro and SHOP. Sarasota Art Museum is home to a robust portfolio of education programs for all ages, including the Studios @ SAM, a vibrant studio arts program, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Ringling College, which offers a variety of courses for adult learners. 

Sarasota Art Museum is located at 1001 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236. To stay in the know, become a Sarasota Art Museum member, sign up for Museum email updates, visit the website at Sarasota Art Museum and follow on Facebook and Instagram


General Admission: $15  
Museum Members: Free 
Under 17, accompanied by an adult: Free  
Cross College Alliance Students: Free with ID  
Veterans/Active Military: Free with ID 


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Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

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