For her 10th solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen in New York, “Fluid Panel State,” Joshua Tree-based Andrea Zittel explores the subtle distinctions we make when we define an object [through Oct. 27]. “The show is a conceptual exercise in which I attempt to highlight the distinctions between art (conceptual object) and design (functional object), painting (two dimensions) and sculpture (three dimensions), and representation (illusion) and literalism (actual object),” Zittel told A.i.A. via email. “All of the works in this show sit at the crux between these three polarized sets of definitions.”
A continuation of Zittel’s ongoing series “A-Z enterprises,” which in the past have yielded furniture, homes and vehicles for contemporary consumers and herself, the exhibition largely consists of hand-woven panels of wool and linen fabrics, along with framed watercolor and gouaches on paper. While much of the work possesses use value—the fabrics in the “A-Z Cover” series could theoretically be used as blankets, and the clothing in the “A-Z Personal Panel” series fit the dimensions of Zittel’s body—the exhibition, the artist insists, is a departure. “This show is quite different from previous exhibitions in that it addresses subtle value systems that define art,” she said. “Rather than discussing some problem/solution that has come up through the course of my own life practice.”
Zittel’s explorations launch from the idea of the panel, which she defined as “the flat section of a plane that can be assigned many different functions: a doormat, a tablecloth, a bath towel, a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood, or a piece of printer paper.” When this panel is lifted from its horizontal orientation-placed over a body, for example, or lent shape by a support, as in Installation of Nine “A-Z Cover Series 1 (Gold and Black Stripes),” 2012, a wool fabric given sculptural qualities by a steel frame in the back room of the gallery—it enters a “fluid state.” It is transformed from a two-dimensional space to a three-dimensional form.
Depending on how they are displayed, Zittel’s panels can be painting or sculpture. “I’m trying to show that a panel can be a sculpture when it is turned flat (so that it is a horizontal surface) or it can become a painting when hung vertically,” said Zittel. “I really hope that people can grasp this subtle distinction—even though the panels in the show were mostly hung vertically like paintings, but they could just as easily be presented on the floor like sculptures by Carl Andre.”
The fluid panel state is illustrated by the “A-Z Cover Series (Rust and Gold Geometric),” textiles hand-woven by experts given different sets of instructions, similar to those used by Sol LeWitt to generate wall drawings. (Although she did not share all of her rules, one of them was that a black shape must not touch any sides of the composition.) The weavers made subjective decisions based on the rules laid out by Zittel; the resulting fabrics are completely different from one another, even though they use the same material and earth-toned hues.
Because of the time and skill spent making the fabrics, they invariably seem far more valuable than the type of blanket you’d buy at say, Pottery Barn. In the gallery, they look like modernist paintings. But Zittel, in her own home, uses one as a bedspread. On the morning before the exhibition opened, she told the press that hers is covered in cat hair. This sort of irreverence towards valuable handmade objects pervades much of the exhibition, calling into question the value of owning objects that cannot be used. Shouldn’t the most expensive things we own be used the most, rather than the other way around?
Zittel has been working in a uniform since 1991, when she started the “A-Z Uniform Series,” an evolving project based on the Russian Constructivist dictate not to alter the “true nature” of a fabric (i.e., not to cut up a rectangular piece of fabric to mold it comfortably on the body). In “A-Z Personal Panels,” Zittel returns to Constructivism, creating ponchos, dresses and tops that consist of single panels unadulterated by alterations like slits or buttonholes. “I made an identical series to what’s on exhibit, and I am currently wearing these pieces,” she told A.i.A. Because the clothing is flat, it becomes indistinguishable from the other panels, and more believable as a pure art form.
The clothing, along with the panels in the cover series, are represented also by gouache drawings, such as Cover in window at a guest house in A-Z West (2012), a 9 ½-by-11-inch work of a woman pulling aside a rust and gold geometric pattern that hangs from a curtain rod above a window. In Lani Blue A-Z Personal Panel Dress (front and back), 2012, a woman holds out her arm as if she is modeling her outfit for a consumer audience.
At first glance, A-Z Carpet Furniture: Cabinet (2012) appears to be nothing more than an abstract nylon carpet that tastefully matches the fabric in the exhibition. Made up of flat geometric shapes that look just as subjective as those on the panels in the “A-Z Cover” series, Zittel revealed that the carpet was made in the exact dimensions—144 by 192 inches—of the interior of a cabin she’s been trying to buy near her California home for many years. She pointed out that the geometric shapes in fact have functional uses—two squares set around a rectangle are a table and chairs; a long rectangle is a kitchen counter; an even larger rectangle is a bed. If she were to live in the space, the shapes would serve as furniture—they are not designations where furniture would be placed. “It is literal, representational and abstract,” Zittel said of the work. When she retires, she plans on living with this “carpet furniture,” a camp stove and a mound of books.
Concurrently, Zittel has a room dedicated to her work in the contemporary art galleries at MoMA. She remains focused on the future. “I want to continue to work with the weavers to hone in on concepts that have come up while making this body of work,” said Zittel. She’s also planning a series of road trips to a community in the Southern Californian desert where people live for free on a piece of land that seems to have no owner: “trying to figure out if the appeal of free living is an economic one or existential.”