In its end-of-year roundup, portlandart.net declared that Ralph Pugay "officially won 2014." I'm not sure what it means to win a year, but it's a lovely compliment and validation of Ralph's success with the Betty Bowen Award, resulting in a solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum that dovetailed with Critter here at Upfor. These two exhibitions were bookended by a comprehensive view of the last few years of Ralph's work at Fairbanks Gallery at Oregon State University.
Ralph is also featured as an editor's pick in New American Paintings #115, in whose blog Erin Langner described the way in which Ralph's paintings "[excel] at catching people off guard" with absurdity, humor and pointed social observation. The funny/serious, high/low, literal/dreamlike contradictions of Ralph's art are nicely captured in Jen Graves' interview in The Stranger published at the end of the year, when Ralph talked about the physical context in which his work was placed at the Seattle Art Museum:
Graves: How’s it feel in a museum as opposed to a gallery?
Pugay: It feels good in relation to the wing that it’s next to. The American wing?
Graves: What do you see as the context there?
They just look so ugly next to each other. On the opposite end of that, I’m excited that it’s right next to the Cai Guo-Qiang installation—those suspended cars. Because I feel like those two things, they resonate to me in opposite ways. When I look at the American wing, it represents a fascination with mastery, whereas when I look at the Cai, despite the fact that it’s masterful, there’s also this what's it mean, what’s it mean, and I feel like those two opposite poles are things that I think about with my work.
Ralph's been teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University for this academic year, a move which (though temporary) creates conversations and opportunities outside of the Northwest for which he's clearly ready. This year promises to be as interesting for Ralph Pugay as the last.
Image: Pugay's Betty Bowen Award installation at Seattle Art Museum.