Since the early 1990s, Andrea Zittel has used the design of domestic spaces and personal objects as an experiment in the contemporary viability of the avant-garde principle of merging art and everyday life. She often cites the Bauhaus and Soviet Constructivism as precedents, while cannily updating these utopian models with contemporary business strategies, such as the “A-Z” branding she applies to all her endeavors. After a decade of living in the California desert, Zittel presented her 10th solo show at Andrea Rosen under the elusive title “Fluid Panel State” (all works 2012). Central to the exhibition was an artist’s statement about “the panel.” Zittel writes: “A panel is a flat section of a plane that can be assigned many different functions: a doormat, a tablecloth, a bath towel, a 4x8 sheet of plywood, or a piece of printer paper.
A panel can support, cover, divide or serve as a visual object.” In her lexicon, panels are “elemental forms that have the ability to slip between functional categories and social roles depending on subtle contextual shifts or overlaying value systems.” In the almost 50 works in this show, panels appeared—as objects and as depicted elements—in a wide range of mediums, from textiles and gouache to a Powerpoint presentation, visually and conceptually blurring boundaries between pictorial representation and material realization.
On the walls of the main gallery were seven large woven wool works in a palette of black, mustard yellow and deep red—colors of modernism warmed by the desert sun—titled “A-Z Cover Series 2 (Rust and Gold Geometric).” The permutations of rectangles in these pieces suggest abstract painting, Southwestern kitsch and flags for unnamed nations or perhaps lost tribes. Zittel commissioned them from professional artisans, who were provided with a set of rules that required individual interpretation. The artist thus combined the subjectivity of the weavers with a conceptual strategy of chance. By contrast, the artist’s own choices were represented in the machine-fabricated rug, titled A-Z Carpet Furniture: Cabin, covering a large area of the gallery floor. The multiple rectangular divisions of the 12-by-16-foot rug represent a customized design indicating various functions for the space within a similarly sized cabin that Zittel plans to acquire near her home in Joshua Tree.
Seven smaller, linen “A-Z Personal Panels” reprise a series of rectangular garments that are pinned and tied around the body rather than sewn to fit it. According to Zittel, these panels are inspired by Constructivism, but what are the stakes of this ambitious return to the idea of “truth to materials” (and its potential for social change) in our late-capitalist society? Since her works are not mass-produced, are they perceptual experiments exploring the line between art and design, or are they perhaps prototypes that can be used by anyone? Much like the panel form she describes, Zittel equivocates on such questions.
The ambiguous position of the panel also plays out in two very large enamel-on-plywood paintings, both called Prototype for Billboard. In each, a trompe l’oeil rendering of a woven wool piece appears to slide off the surface on which it is rendered. Although these works seem to depict domestic matters, the illusions (both visual and psychic) promulgated by the form of the billboard should serve as a reminder about Zittel’s work. While it may be about private experience, its operation depends on much more impersonal social forces.
Photo: Andrea Zittel: Prototype for Billboard: A-Z Cover Series 2 (Rust and Gold Geometric), 2012, enamel on plywood, 72¼ by 145¼ inches; at Andrea Rosen.