It seems to have been a big art week. More today: we're off to the Getty later this morning. But first, yesterday. We saw "Multiple Vantage Points: Southern California Women Artists, 1980-2006" at the Municipal Gallery, then went on to "Wack!" at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art--a major revisiting of the feminist art movement that began a half decade ago. More of these at a later date: I plan to address them in my next entry on Artscene Visual Radio in "The Art of Outrage." For now, I have more to say about another exhibit at the Geffen, "Andrea Zittel: Critical Space."
It's a show that should appeal to the Buddhist sensibility, because it's all about mindful living and modesty of means. Amongst the favorite maxims she lists on one prominent section of the gallery wall, try this: "Sometimes if you can't change a situation, you just have to change the way you think about a situation." Than Geoff would not disagree. Or this: "What you own, owns you." Zittel's work hovers comfortably between art and design. It deals, as the title suggests, with space, and the way in which we occupy space in a world where its use is increasingly "critical," with dwindling resources and an exponentially expanding population. (Visit Zittel's A-Z website for a more complete picture of what she is about. You'll be amazed--and perhaps a little humbled.)
With a Quaker craftsman's eye for simplicity and exquisite detail, Zittel creates miniature--but practical--living spaces where every legitimate need is planned and nothing is in excess. One notable piece included in the current show is an entire dwelling that appears to fold up into a single large crate, ready for instant transportation. A combination of advanced, hi-tech design sense and bare-bones modesty, these living and work spaces have the privacy of a monk's cell and the convenience of contemporary utilitarianism. She sees constraint--whether spatial, financial, or practical--as a challenge to the imagination, a form of liberation rather than a constriction. "What makes us feel liberated," she writes--another of those maxims--"is not total freedom but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves."
Zittel is clearly fascinated with the contingencies of daily living. Nothing is unworthy of her meticulous attention, from cutlery to dish design, from place settings to furniture, from bed and floor coverings to clothes, which she calls "uniforms." These were initially conceived, as the brochure accompanying the exhibit tells us, "as a solution to maximize Zittel's extremely limited resources. In the uniforms one can see both an expression of personal fantasy--unusual combinations of color and material--and a clear evolution of material choices." The dresses, as I understand it, were constructed by the artist out of handy raw materials and were designed as multi-purpose wearables. The term "uniform" seems accurate: their designer elegance covers for the simple, practical necessity of having something distinctive and yet inexpensive to wear in any circumstance--whether hiking in the desert (Zittel's home base is in Joshua Tree) or attending a social function in the New York art world.
I admire the quiet integrity of this artist, and the breadth and consistency of her vision. I admire the fact the she uses her creative faculties to address the realities of the world we live in, and proposes practical solutions to some of our most pressing problems. I admire her ability to combine a highly sophisticated familiarity with design and technology with a pleasing simplicity and a frank utilitarianism. I admire the humor and the appreciation for the small things that make life immediate and pleasurable.
Avoiding, for the most part, the glitz of the contemporary art world despite the attention that is now gives her, she seems more than anything to enjoy doing her work. That, at least, is the impression I get from this engaging exhibition. Pay attention to the small things, she seems to say: the big ones will take care of themselves. Very Buddhist...