It takes a specific talent to pack an apartment to its very edges and have the result feel artfully crammed rather than cluttered and claustrophobic. And while that’s the effect that artist Judyth van Amringe has achieved, it didn’t happen overnight. In November, after ten years in Rhode Island, she returned to New York City and reduced her square-footage by more than half without sacrificing any of her stash. It took about four months to place it all in her 2,000-square-foot rental apartment in Red Hook, from the enameled metal German bread boxes to a miniature replica of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s house. “I like living with my stuff,” she says, somewhat unnecessarily. “I feel safe when it’s around.”
Much of her stuff gets its charm augmented when she acquires it. “I love having my own hand with something,” she says. It’s a slightly archaic locution that aptly describes Van Amringe’s need to alter, add on to, and augment everything that comes into her sphere. And in her apartment, she’s had her hand with countless carefully arranged self-made and found objects, plus hybrids thereof—items she discovered and re-created. This inclination to adorn what’s bought and a knack for assemblage set her apart from the stockpiling riffraff. “When I buy something, I already have it placed,” explains Van Amringe. “It’s kind of like doing your work, if you’re an artist.” And despite the pad’s dazzling jumble of bric-a-brac, there’s an internal order; it doesn’t feel chaotic. That’s helped by the view, a placid fluvial expanse framed by tall, arched windows. Van Amringe chose the rental for this scape; it’s immensely soothing, but still active, and she says it reminds her of the bustle on Venice’s Grand Canal. In the living room, a cageful of warbling canaries carry the image even further. Salon-style mounting hides the standard white walls dictated by an urban sublet. Barely a trace of blank surface remains beneath the walls’ blanket of hung objects, which include her most recent work: a series of spectral Polaroid transfers washed in watercolor.
Photography is a relatively new venture for Van Amringe, although the woman can’t help but make things. In 1997, after nineteen years as a designer in New York, she moved to Providence to focus on art full time, primarily in ceramics. (In 2001, she won a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant.) Her ceramics are often textured vessels that resemble giant mollusks and impossibly thin disks reminiscent of sand dollars; they occupy the apartment’s many tabletops. Stashed in the cupboards of her workroom are 800-plus rectangles of homemade wax-coated paper embedded with bits and pieces that she’s collected through her life: buttons, charms, fragments of clothing. Eerily beautiful wax-dipped tulips fill an enormous basket.
While the apartment might seem jumbled beyond control, Van Amringe won’t purchase a piece unless she has a spot for it. “If I sold everything, I’d be out looking for more,” she states ruefully. She doesn’t expect to be seeking or shopping for a while. As of now, there’s not a gap in sight.