As is often true with Paul Pfeiffer, the centerpiece of his recent exhibition was a work that focused on a person who wasn’t there. Playroom (all works 2012) is a scaled-down model of a room based on one in the 1970s mansion of basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain. Pfeiffer’s six-sided, roughly 6-foot-wide structure, a cross between an over-size jewel box and a miniature stadium, features a ring of velvet-covered banquettes (bleachers?). They face a round black cushion meant to suggest the fur-covered waterbed presumably shared by some of the many, many women (20,000, he said) with whom Chamberlain had sex. More velvet lines the ceiling, which is dotted with lights that are reflected to infinity in the one-way-mirrored walls. Viewers peering inside see neither the basketball star nor themselves, and the seeming multitude of lights casts little illumination. In Pfeiffer’s world, athleticism and eroticism, stardom and even spectatorship are all made the more engrossing by being sucked into oblivion. We’re left with nothing but our own guilty desire to see more than the dim and hushed object on offer.
Basketball reappears in 100 Point Game (the title refers to a record-setting 1962 performance by Chamberlain), although again there is no player in sight. Returning to the format of John 3:16 (2000), the video that first won acclaim for Pfeiffer—it shows a ball suspended, spinning, in midair, while hoops, nets and hands appear and disappear around it—100 Point Game offers a leaping, swaying net at the center of every frame, persistent as a ghost. In the background, small, scratchy views of various gyms and stadiums, scoreboards and audiences shift occasionally from color to black and white.
100 Point Game was transferred to 16mm film from a video composite of various films and broadcasts of decades-old contests. Going in the other direction, technologically, Pfeiffer transferred 8mm film to video for Home Movie/Locations for a Home Movie. Featuring assembled footage from the early 1970s, it shows a big, shifting family of mainly African-American children and a couple of white adults piling in and out of a VW bug and visiting various child- friendly destinations, including a zoo and a science museum. Balloons bob, paper-bagged food is shared and various dogs (and at least one goat) are petted. Also part of this work is a series of still photographs. The four small black-and-white shots in this show are compositionally wrong in the sense that John Baldessari lampooned in a group of photo- silkscreens of the late 1960s. The decidedly non-site places in Home Movie/Locations for a Home Movie include a boulder in front of a parking lot, and an unremarkable fountain, framed off-kilter; all are devoid of people.
Rooting his current work in the 1960s and early ’70s, when ideas began to supplant objects in art, Pfeiffer connects that displacement to his own vanishing subjects. And in taking an equally intimate perspective on celebrity athletics and improvised parties for unidentified children, he also draws a comparison between the emptiness at the heart of star-driven spectacle and other, more personal kinds of invisibility.
Photo: Paul Pfeiffer: Playroom, 2012, steel, one-way mirror, wood and mixed mediums, 62 1⁄4 by 72 by 30 inches; at Paula Cooper.