Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Over the weekend I also saw Andrea Zittel’s current show at Andrea Rosen Gallery, Single Strand, Forward Motion. I am undeniably a huge fan of Zittel and her work..but I have to admit, it’s a little strange encountering a gallery show with such a modest premise from an artist I associate with her recent traveling museum show—highlighting her utopian modern high end designs and the absurd branding of her personal corporation, A-Z Administrative Services.

Rather than offer sleek, slightly ridiculous solutions for modern living, Single Strand, Forward Motion consists of two slightly underdeveloped ideas for studio practice. Part one is a series of energetic accumulators: irregular handmade hooks that have been cast in bronze and mounted to the gallery walls.

The shape and functional associations of the hooks draw a range of objects to them. Though placed in casual and sometimes random and/or temporary arrangement, the accumulated objects are organized into a regulated system by the supporting armatures (digits). It is difficult if not impossible to hang a hook on a wall without soon thereafter placing something on it. They become a magnet for the detritus of life and living - and therefore an energetic accumulator.

I think this is a fine concept, and could provide an interesting interface with the artist’s life, consumption, and, well, detritus. Except that these accumulators have failed thus far to accumulate much of anything. There’s very little currently hanging on these hooks, aside from a few loops of long, crocheted strands, one of which wanders off the wall to diagonally bisect the gallery floor; a pair of her grandmother’s scissors; and tea bags, bundled together into little clusters and hanging only in a handful of places in the room.

Now maybe I’ve just been attending too many grad and undergrad crits lately, but the whole tea-bags-in-my-art schtick—turning a ritual of consumption into fodder for artistic production—is way, way familiar. I’ve seen it several times in the last two years, in different contexts, but always boiling down (ha!) to the same premise. Which is fine, but it’s surprising to see such a readily available, consistently exploited idea popping up in a show by a major established artist.

The other part of the show consists of the Single-Strand Shapes—crocheted, boxy, abstract pieces, framed and punctuating the room here and there. Some are hung well above eye level, along the zone where the dark grey color that has been hastily applied to the gallery walls irregularly breaks, leaving the usual white that continues up to the ceiling. (Imagine painting the lower half of a wall, but not masking off the line where you plan to stop, and instead letting the paint roller wander across that boundary. It’s a nice, offhand-looking effect, but it’s almost more present to the eye than the artwork it’s supposed to be complementing.)

These pieces are fine; they recall Zittel’s own single-strand clothing, and her experiments with modern fashion a la Alexander Rodchenko in the Uniforms project. They also walk the line between rule-based conceptual art practice and earlier European avante-garde abstraction. But they’re basically a body of small works after the fact, offering opportunities for collectors to consume more manageable pieces that relate to an idea the artist has pretty thoroughly mined by now.

So the show basically misses. It could, however, suggest a new direction for Zittel’s production, something much more open, less object-based, more performative. In the last paragraph of her statement, Zittel indicates that she’s thinking that way, as she writes about postmodern dance, line dancing, and marching bands—referring to Walking Patterns, a performance that occurred in the gallery as part of the show. I didn’t get to see that performance, but I’m guessing it might have helped me with some of my misgivings about the objects on display.

The show remains on view through March 7.

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