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In Wellfleet, the world as chaos — but art as order

Judy Pfaff uses many materials and techniques in her new installation, “× × × ÷ ÷ ÷ 
= =
 
= + + +,” at Gaa Gallery Wellfleet.
Gaa Gallery
Judy Pfaff uses many materials and techniques in her new installation, “× × × ÷ ÷ ÷  = =   = + + +,” at Gaa Gallery Wellfleet.

WELLFLEET — Judy Pfaff, trailblazer in installation art, stopped by Gaa Gallery Wellfleet a couple of years ago and decided to make work for the lovely old space with exposed ceiling beams. The joyful, witty piece, novelistic in its depth and detail, is up now. 

Titled with a string of mathematical symbols, the installation must be viewed as a whole. But some parts can also be seen as discrete. 

Pfaff’s a maximalist. Her building blocks include layered, patterned encaustic and oil stick drawings on found paper, but she voraciously experiments with materials and techniques. Bright and tangled sculptural elements include plastic household items melted to look gooey and monstrous. 

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Most of the work hangs on the wall (which is restrained for Pfaff), with drawings and sculptures layered over grids of digitally stretched and swirled photos coated in glitter and epoxy. Pluses, minuses, and basic shapes punctuate the installation as it winds up a stairway from one floor to the next. 

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In one corner, a three-dimensional vortex hangs against an opalescent ground that includes distorted photos of fish and Asian markets. It features extruded pink gloves blooming like lilies from loosely coiled skeletons of paper Chinese lanterns. 

Several lanterns, blinds, and an umbrella pirouette over the surface of one piece, “+’s & -’s #45,” as swimming, kaleidoscopic botanical imagery slides beneath. It’s like a performer spinning plates: whirring, suspenseful, busy, yet holding it together. The dour, natty “Hedgehog” sits on the floor in front of it, made of gnarly tree root, extruded plastic, and a frothy string of plastic balls.

The one piece not bedecked with color and glitter is the axle around which everything revolves. In it, metal rods make demented loops around glass baubles. Other spheres drop nearly to the floor. I saw clock pendulums and wild but contained orbits: gravity, order, and measurement. The world is a chaos, sometimes lustrous, always churning, Pfaff seems to say, but we have the tools to tame it — if only barely, and for a moment.

JUDY PFAFF:  × × × ÷ ÷ ÷ = = = + + +,

At Gaa Gallery Wellfleet, 230B Main St., Wellfleet, through Aug. 11. 508-214-0281, www.gaa-gallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.