Addressing UFOs & colours to re-present the TABOO

Waiting for the UFOs by Polly Apfelbaum
(a space set between a landscape & a bunch of flowers)

Documented on 2 October 2018 | Ikon Gallery Birmingham

Polly Apfelbaum, an American contemporary visual artist who was born in 1955 and she has defined colourful artworks and especially known for drawings, sculptures, and fabric floor pieces.


How can the exhibiting art installation associate to “Waiting for the UFOs, a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers”?


There was an eye-catching installation in the centre of the main gallery, with some main word(s) in capital letter, white and in the centre on top of each colour, and acrylic-painted 8 colours in total from top to bottom: “Sexuality” on the Pink, “Life” on the red, “Healing” on the orange, “Sunlight” on the yellow, “Nature” on the light green, “Art” on the green, “Serenity/ Harmony” on the blue and “Spirit” on the purple.

Words & the 8 Colours on the centre wall: Life Sprit; Ceramic arts on the wall: Sun Targets 2018

Sun Targets 2018

Approximately 100 various designs, which involving colours and textures of ceramic artworks in almost identical size (12 x 12 inches) placed horizontally on each of the sidewalls, and the orange and yellow acrylic-painted stripes which is the same height level as the orange and yellow in the centre wall.


On the second floor, there was two rectangle shape of rugs near the entrance with a wavy pattern combining the pink, red, orange, yellow, light green, green, blue, and purple. Some ceramic beads suspended with strings in a horizontal line. There was a square rug in the back presenting the same shade of colours as the rugs on the front with additional light blue and grey, and yellow for the edges. Its circle pattern matches those handmade paper flowers installed as a circle or so-called Mandala and is located at the centre of the wall.

Front rugs: Squiggles 2018; Suspending ceramic beads: Headline and Kneelines; Square rug: Targets; Fake (paper) flowers on the wall: Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions) 1990
Headline and Kneelines
A close-up to the handmade paper flowers of Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions)
Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions)

The series of a square rug but in blue edges was placed next to the yellow one, and in between, there were as identical ceramic beads suspending closer to the ground on this area compared to those ceramic beads on the first room of the entrance.

In another room, there was one more the same square rug series but with red edges. And there were 77 individual rectangle paper circle designs painted in a combination of different colours, they were placed neatly, and corresponded with the rug.


A digital installation art continuously projecting frames referring to the wall of handmade paper flowers in mandala style of installation in a room of dim light.


Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions) digital installation

Moreover, there was a wall painted with purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, light green, green and blue vertically, which was matching the rug on the floor as the continuous to the relevant colours, and there was a cartoon snack on the right top corner of the rug, and a cartoon bird on the left bottom corner.


General impression

For the concept of Waiting for the UFOs as the exhibition title regardless of the obvious flower installation as it was stated in the sub-title, it required a certain level of imagination to see through if we haven’t read the information of exhibition given by the artist and some research online in regard ( If you are interested, please refer to the information given on Good to know section below ).

There were some noticeable common elements among the exhibiting artworks. The shape of “Circle” can be seen in various artworks in this exhibition: for example, the ceramic artworks with various designs, the neat circle-shaped paper flowers installation, the digital installation projecting the paper flowers installation work, the circle pattern of rug series in the shape of a square, also, the painted circles on paper installed on the wall, and the ceramic beads. Besides, the significant use of colours: pink, red, orange, yellow, light green, green, blue, and purple can be seen throughout the exhibition, and be specific in many artworks: all the exhibiting rugs, the main gallery acrylic-painted wall with words, and painted 77 designs of the circle in rectangle papers, and the painted wall which is part of the “Halfpipe”.


Good to know

Hidden meaning in Title

Source from the gallery booklet, the exhibition title was inspired by the song “Waiting for the UFOs” by Graham Parker, a British singer-songwriter in the 1970s, which was recalling the vast empty spaces of the American landscape and the characters who anxiously anticipate extra-terrestrial visits. Besides, it was combining the concept of a landscape painting “The Plagiarism (1940)” by surrealist René Magritte regarding his definition of a garden as “a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers”. And Apfelbaum explored folk art in referencing this idea of appropriation and subtly addressing it with political and cultural context.

Political context

LGBT is one of the taboos all around the world, although many countries are more open up to the gay community nowadays after years and years of pride, and the general public in certain places is more open-minded towards the taboo. Many artworks can be seen representing the taboo throughout the years, as artists who either inspired or intended to express their emotions or sexual orientation subtly. Similar to the eye-catching wall “Life Sprit” in Apfelbaum’s exhibition, the use of colours signified the gay pride flag about the original Gilbert Baker’s design of “Rainbow Flag” in 1978, also the use of words on each colour “Sexuality”, “Life”, “Healing”, “Sunlight”, “Nature”, “Art”, “Serenity/ Harmony”, and “Spirit” has given more definition about the idea around gender equality when it comes to human nature. Moreover, Apfelbaum offered an opportunity to work with women who are good at hand weaving, to produce her design of rugs exhibiting in her installation, which is a way to promote gender equality.


Cultural context

The various design of ceramic plates “Sun targets 2018” Apfelbaum made to re-present the constellation.

Apfelbaum worked with women for the rugs, to be specific, the rugs were designed by Apfelbaum and hand-dyed and woven by Mexican women in Oaxaca which represents Oaxaca’s traditional culture in weaving, dying method, and textile craftwork. The contribution work of women and being put on an aesthetic platform for appreciation, and the invitation of the Oaxaca weaving culture, which has subtly challenged the social hierarchy.

“Halfpipe 2018” reminds colourfully painted stripes outside the Philadephia Museum by an American artist Gene Davis and it was named Franklin’s Footpath. And Apfelbaum’s version is involved with the skateboard culture.


Fun fact

The fake (paper) flowers were all handmade and it was first used on Apfelbaum’s work of exhibition in 1990 and re-used as the Wallflowers (Mixed emotions) installation in 2018. Apfelbaum didn’t re-touch the fake (paper) flowers to present the nature of flaws caused by ageing.

Floor art using vibrant hand-dyed fabric is one of Apfelbaum’s signatures, and she has given the type of art creation as “fallen paintings”.



Refer to the question at the beginning, the exhibition title does make sense with all the additional information, and construction of the meaning behind it. It is inspiring and meaningful to the exhibition covers political and cultural elements that visitors might not be able to see through for just a brief art appreciation. Apfelbaum has contributed to the aesthetic abstract art installation referring to popular culture and taboo.

Thank you for reading. Share how you feel about this art installation in the comment section below. 


Disclaimer: All videos and images are documented by and use for the art-sharing purpose to empower the art community and all credited to relevant artists and art galleries. Some information on the Good to Know section is sourced from the Ikon Exhibitions / Events September – November 2018 booklet, an Art Review by Dana Self on the kcstudio, and another Art review by Christine Takengny on the Contemporary Art Society

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