The exhibition Marcia Hafif: Films (1970-1999) remains on view at the Kunstbau through September 30, 2018. It surveys Marcia Hafif’s oeuvre on film, which spans almost three decades. Numerous works, which were transferred to digital media for our exhibition, have never been shown in Germany.
Hafif’s renown is primarily based on her paintings. The Lenbachhaus has over twenty of her monochrome pictures in its collection; selections from this set were included in several presentations of treasures from the collection in recent years. In her paintings, the artist pursued an analytical investigation of the effect of color on the beholder. By contrast, personal and biographical themes feature much more prominently in her films. What is the connection between these two seemingly disparate strands of Hafif’s oeuvre?
Hafif started making films in 1969. After returning to her native California from Rome, where she had lived and worked as a painter for several years, she branched out into new forms of creative expression. She bought a Super 8 camera and filmed her friends and the landscape. She often spent time on the beach, capturing the scenes that unfolded. The camera was an instrument that allowed her to record what she saw, to observe it more intently. Clouds (1970) shows nothing but a cloud sailing into the frame, gradually changing shape, and eventually passing into the distance. Hafif’s works from this time turn the focus on the choreographies of everyday life. As a medium of reproduction, film let her preserve incidents—even ones as banal as a cloud moving across the sky. This study of presence and temporality strikes me as a sustained concern that is characteristic of her art across boundaries of medium and genre.
A few years after returning to California, Marcia Hafif moved to the East Coast and went back to painting. In New York, she created the imposing series of paintings An Extended Gray Scale (1972): one hundred and six separate canvases enact a painterly progression from white to black through nuanced shades of gray. Once again, her art frames a presence in space and time that transcends aspects immanent to the work, letting the beholder experience the creative process as extended in time even as the subtle gradations of color make him aware of his own presence in the gallery. Hafif’s films (as well as her diverse output in fields such as photography, installation art, and writing) underscore the conceptual approach that defines her oeuvre. As the artist once aptly noted, “I’m not a painter, I just work with paint.” Her analytical eye and her insistent quest to devise a creative form to anchor her existence in the world are recognizable in all her works.
Several recent exhibitions have begun to undertake the long-overdue comprehensive review of Hafif’s oeuvre: last year, a retrospective at Kunsthaus Baselland presented her paintings in the context of her photographs and films. In Marcia Hafif: A Place Apart, which just opened in the artist’s native Pomona, California, Hafif’s reflections on ideal museum spaces, which led her to sketch numerous architectural designs, serve as the lens through which the exhibition examines selected paintings and the artist’s writings. Emphasizing the significance of place for her work on her art, the show ideally complements the presentation at the Lenbachhaus, extending its exploration of her manifold creative endeavors.
The exhibition Marcia Hafif: A Place Apart is on view at the Pomona College Museum of Art through December 22, 2018.
Sebastian Schneider is Assistant Curator and Curator of the exhibition Marcia Hafif: Films (1970-1999).
Translation: Gerrit Jackson