Iconic artist Judy Rifka, thriving since the halcyon art scene of 1970s New York, finally comes to Dubai

It’s no exaggeration to say that Judy Rifka is a legend. And what a coup that she’s coming to Dubai this September. During her two-week visit, Rifka will be making and showing new work, along with some ground-breaking pieces from the 1970s, courtesy of the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, in an exhibition entitled Judy Rifka: RETROactive.

“In 1977, Doug Sanderson introduced me to Jean-Paul Najar,” recalls Rifka. “I was impressed by his impeccable, discerning taste. He cut through to the most important works. He always wanted to know my objectives and motivations… His interest was very nourishing to my artist spirit. Jean-Paul accepted the often ephemeral qualities of my art — unusual for a collector, who are often more interested in the material results. Only much later, when Deborah [Najar, his daughter and director of the foundation] showed me what he had collected, did I realise the tremendous service he did me in saving a period of works that surely would have been lost. But he had recognised and collected a most powerful set, that had never been shown.”

In a seminal Artforum article from 1981, Rifka was lauded by Rene Ricard on the same level as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. “Her single shapes on plywood are among the most important paintings of the decade,” he wrote. At that time, they were shown in nightclubs like the Mudd Club and Danceteria. Rifka has since had over 50 solo shows internationally, from London’s Institute of Contemporary Art to New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

It’s space that the artist relentlessly pursues. A devotee of constructivism and Malevich, she plays with canvas — leaving it unstretched it is her signature — and collage, creating dimensions from layers of colour.

“I think about my process all the time. How can I refine that idea? I often set the stage for the work: spots, lines, tiny rectangles,” she explains. “Then a process begins, where the painting starts. I don’t think you can overdo or underdo a painting at this point. People say, ‘How do you know when it’s done?’ It’s never done. You just stop.”

From September 6, Rifka will host an artist’s residency, talks and workshops, and three local apprentices will work with her on a newly commissioned project, before her exhibition opens on September 18. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a retrospective. One look at her Facebook feed will tell you that Rifka is incredibly prolific and current. “It has been a continuous process for me. I will demonstrate the connections from one period to the next,” she promises.

Judy Rifka: RETROactive runs at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation from September 18 to November 3.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Collectors Issue #38, page 32.