Therese Pfeifer waves her hand in front of her face.
“Is beauty here?” she asks, then brings her hands to her chest. “Or is it here?”
Pfeifer’s captive audience stands among images of a limbless mannequin Pfeifer painted. The freelance artist put her work on hold while pursuing a master’s degree at MU, but she said the time has come for her to share the beauty — and the grotesqueness — of her paintings with the public.
The Pfeifer exhibit “Beauty, The Monstrous and Waiting” is on display this month at Columbia College. In a gallery talk Sept. 10, Pfeifer, also a visiting professor at MU, explained her exhibit to a standing-room-only crowd of students, faculty and community members.
“I think art should be truthful; it should speak about something that you really care about,” Pfeifer said.
During the talk, she compared other contemporary artists’ work to her own in an attempt to show how the ideas of beauty and the grotesque apply to her paintings.
“My work results from a pursuit of identity in a world where there are no safe guidelines,” Pfeifer said.
The paintings, each on a 48-inch-by-60-inch canvas, depict a life-sized female mannequin in human postures, such as sunbathing or sitting on a couch. Pfeifer’s mannequin has an attractive face and figure but lacks arms and legs. In the paintings, Pfeifer juxtaposes the mannequin’s beauty with its deformation.
“The idea of the mannequin evolved from just a portrait of her to dressing her up and putting her into our environment,” Pfeifer said.
“When you walk in, the very first thing that strikes you is the size, the color and the intensity of the color,” said junior Amy Moeller, an art major at Columbia College.
Moeller said that the show depicts contemporary society and that the mannequin is a symbol of the beauty and perfection toward which many women strive — “even though the mannequin has no arms or legs and is incomplete.” One of the paintings that touched Askia Bilal, a senior drawing major at Columbia College, is titled “4 minutes and 33 seconds.”
“The meaning behind it is ironic to me,” Bilal said. “She is sitting at this piano, but she has no arms. It is really pertinent to my life.”
As an artist, Pfeifer said, she depicts what is true to her. She does not wish to send a specific message — she only hopes that people are touched by her paintings.
“Beauty in art is when something happens between you and the painting,” she said. “If it touches something inside, then I think, ‘This is what I wanted to do.’ ”