Skip to Content

Karen Rifas

Hunter Braithwaite

Karen Rifas,Corner, Black Cord, 2014. Black Cord, 8.5' x 67" x 42".

The Arevalo Gallery Project
May 5th – July 14th, 2014

As a high school student flipping around in my AP art history textbook, I would return to group of thumbnail-size paintings of trees by a young Mondrian. In his affected geometric handling of the branches and leaves, you saw where he was headed. The series of paintings represent less the Modernist program than an artist developing his style, slowly paring away of the inessential. Karen Rifas has done a lot of paring as well.

Over the past three decades, the Miami-based artist and teacher has moved from sculptures made of bronze and piles of fallen leaves gathered in her backyard, to pieces in which the leaves were delicately threaded on string, to pieces consisting solely of colored cord. Rifas has exhibited these cord pieces to the point that many consider them her signature. Limiting herself to the Mondrianian palette of red, yellow, black, and white, she pays attention to how the eye traces the room and installs her works accordingly. Sometimes they hover in the room, more ideal than actual, but other times the rough weave of the cord (provided by Miami Cordage) and the knots drag the sculptures to the ground.

Copy of IMG_3525

Installation view of Rifas’s cord pieces and painted architectural element.

One thing about pure forms is that you can’t claim them. The materials and their geometry call to mind Fred Sandback, the Minimalist artist who worked exclusively with colored yarn before he died in 2003. The differences between the artists might seem inconsequential, but they remain. Sandback often made shapes, pure geometric forms floating unperturbed in the gallery. Rifas’s installations are flatter. The cord is often used as a two-dimensional boundary slicing through the room itself. On another level, the similarities between Rifas and Sandback underscore the importance of Minimalism among Miami’s old guard. Artists such as Darby Bannard and Robert Thiele have had a stalwart aesthetic presence over the years. We still see this legacy play out among younger artists who came up here.
Copy of Copy of IMG_2115

Rifas has another series of work: a neurotically crisp body of drawings on paper. They reduce drawing and its many applications to the most fundamental levels of line and space. Some seem like sketches for her string works, others like architectural blueprints, still others exist just to stimulate the eye. Rifas draws about one a day. The formal balance and the unadulterated flow of the lines are notable, as is their overall playfulness. Lines float, distort, and scuttle the eye. The sculptures, based necessarily in taut heavy world of gravity, do not have the freedom of the drawings. Perhaps Rifas has sensed this, as she’s begun to add two-dimensional painted elements to cord installations. Planes of black and yellow echo the color and lines of the installations, providing an interregnum between the two- and three-dimensional worlds. Even if you’ve been at it as long as Rifas has, you still have to keep moving. Perhaps this is where she’s headed.