New York

View of “Andrea Zittel,” 2016. Floor, from left: Linear Sequence #2, 2016; Linear Sequence #1, 2016. Photo: Pierre Le Hors.

View of “Andrea Zittel,” 2016. Floor, from left: Linear Sequence #2, 2016; Linear Sequence #1, 2016. Photo: Pierre Le Hors.

Andrea Zittel

Andrea Rosen Gallery

View of “Andrea Zittel,” 2016. Floor, from left: Linear Sequence #2, 2016; Linear Sequence #1, 2016. Photo: Pierre Le Hors.

It’s been twenty-five years now since Andrea Zittel initiated her eponymous “A–Z” enterprise, the generative Gesamtkunstwerk that has become, for all intents and purposes, indivisible from her life. Run out of a complex she’s built over the last decade and a half in the desert a couple of hours east of Los Angeles, the artist’s “institute of investigative living” has grown to encompass furniture and home design, as well as clothing, textiles, food, and more. Descended from both Donald Judd’s experiments in Marfa, Texas, and such counterculture-era utopian communities as Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti in central Arizona, Zittel’s diverse and estimable practice is, as she herself has observed, finally about lived experience. She’s obviously not the first artist to decamp from the regimes of the cultural capitals for the open spaces of the American west; nor is she alone in her decision to renounce, physically and philosophically, the cosmopolitan world while keeping one foot firmly planted in the blue-chip-gallery system. But because her work—which aims to hold in tension a kind of earnestly holistic disdain for haywire consumptive practices and the production of finely finished, increasingly sumptuous objets made for the delectation of high-end consumers—so explicitly queries the boundaries between use-value and exchange-value, it holds itself to a different, and in many ways more challenging, standard. For Zittel, the alignments (and gaps) between what her works mean there and here, between how they operate functionally and symbolically, are not simply intriguing theoretical distinctions, but are crucial to any assessment of her larger artistic project.

The artist’s most recent exhibition at Andrea Rosen, her eleventh solo show with the gallery and her first there in four years, was engaged in an explicit fashion with the effects of location (and dislocation), and was built around four sleek configurations that, characteristically, hovered between furniture and sculpture. The forms—Planar Configuration #1 and #2 and Linear Sequence #1 and #2 (all works 2016)—were designed to behave effectively as nonsites: gallery-based emanations that gestured toward “real world” counterparts located back in the desert; “logical pictures,” to use Smithson’s phrase, that in this case are not formally but rather functionally “abstracted.” Identical in construction, if arguably antithetical in utility, to their absent companions, the pieces are elegantly wrought distillations of the living units, as Zittel once called them, that the artist has been making since the mid-1990s. However, unlike the charmingly démodé Whole Earth Catalog–style arrangements from which they descend, which in their earliest manifestations featured bluntly utilitarian things like sinks and beds, these sleekly polished forms—powder-coated steel and aluminum, varnished wood, fiberglass, brass, and enamel, all in the service of hard edges and flat extensions—do not immediately announce their practical usefulness. Indeed, more than anything they suggest the spatial scenarios and furnishings of a certain species of relational aesthetics, in which the vocabulary of Minimalism provides the basis for a display language that draws equally on its conceptual groundings in spectatorial reorientation and its commercial deployment within the smartly restrained décor of late-modernist bureaucracy.

As if in answer to questions of day-to-day functionality—particularly in the case of the complex and rather opaque geometries of Planar Configuration #1 and #2—Zittel also included large photographs of these arrangements in situ: two ’40s-era cabins renovated by the artist, as well as the interior of her own home in Joshua Tree. (The desire to connect the gallery space with the domestic environment was also evident in the two large, hanging textiles that were included; woven in wool and featuring an understated desert palette, they would be at home in any tastefully decorated southwestern hacienda.) There has always been a pedagogical flavor to Zittel’s project, its products figuring at once as objects and object lessons—in self-reliance, resourcefulness, sustainability, a certain modest mode of living. But because the dual character of these new works was so explicitly articulated—there supporting a laptop or a lamp; here isolated, off-limits—they didn’t so much challenge the distinction between art and life as dilate it, suggesting that their supposed variability as objects may finally lie less in their native forms and concepts than in simple issues of context.

Jeffrey Kastner