Rifka to Dubai: the East Side vibe comes to Alserkal Avenue

RETROactive, a Judy Rifka retrospective, is coming to Dubai – and it could be one of the highlights of the season.

The Jean-Paul Najar Foundation will be showing brand new works created during a two-week residency in Dubai, plus works from the 70s and 80s taken from the Jean-Paul Najar Collection – JP Najar had been collecting Rifka’s work for a while.

Judy Rifka was one of the (many) exciting counterculture-to-pop-culture New York artists to emerge from the seminal Times Square Show of June 1980 – there were a hundred or so participants, most of whom became household names at one level or another (depending on the income level of your household).

Judy Rifka with new work at Trestle Projects, Brooklyn, a year ago

Rifka herself has become pretty mainstream in terms of acquisitions and prices; , she had a very successful sort-of retrospective in New York earlier this year that include works like her influential plywood paintings of the 70s.

Her work (video, collage, paintings) remains accessible, sometimes entertaining, usually understandable, and still connected to the urban vibe. It’s based on an idiosyncratic visual vocabulary, one that has absorbed obvious pop elements; Rifka was closely associated with the emergence of graffiti art and the incipient Lower East Side scene of the 1970s) but has been refuelled successively by other influences – by life, in fact – and remains unmistakably fresh. Indomitably prolific, Judy Rifka is still riding the downtown zeitgeist.

"Those single shapes on plywood are the most important paintings of the 1970s, in my opinion …” NY curator Gregory de la Haba at the Yard show earlier this year
“Those single shapes on plywood are the most important paintings of the 1970s, in my opinion …” NY curator Gregory de la Haba at the Amstel Gallery show earlier this year

The show earlier this year included several of her Single-Shapes On Plywood paintings, 4ft square panels that hadn’t been seen since her friend Keith Haring exhibited them 40 years ago. At the time the influential art critic Rene Ricard called Rifka’s single shapes on plywood “among the most important paintings of the decade … Every painter who saw them at the time recognized their influence.”

The Single-Shapes On Plywood paintings date from the early 1970s, a date which happens to be the focus of much of the JP Najar collection.

A couple more quotes that give a insight: “To talk to Rifka is to hear about a lifetime breathing art, an uncensored lust for trying out ideas” said Jennifer Samet. And another commentator described her Amstel Gallery show earlier this year like this: “If you aren’t privy to what Judy Rifka means to the New York City art scene and the genre of intermedia art in general, this exhibition is a must-see”.

The same will surely apply to the Jean Paul Najar Foundation show, which opens on 18 September. Judy Rifka’s residency runs for the two weeks preceding it, and she’ll be taking an apprentice for the fortnight.

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