When I was a little kid, I was fascinated by a fragment of an Aztec textile that my parents had framed and hung on the wall. I remember being perplexed by the decision to frame that fabric, while a similar-looking carpet (from IKEA, rather than an archeological dig) sat abused on the floor.
It’s a pedestrian memory, but it helps to explain the dense, sometimes cryptic work from Andrea Zittel on view this month at Andrea Rosen Gallery. The show, called Fluid Panel State, shows Zittel at the height of her career, returning to ideas she first broached as an emerging artist—namely, when, how, and why objects transcend their mundane origins to become art.
The backbone of Fluid Panel State is a series of textiles, sometimes hung on the wall, and sometimes laid on the floor. Zittel (who lives on her compound in Joshua Tree) worked with weavers across the US to create the fabrics, led by a Maine-based lead weaver named Sheila Shanti. Zittel sent each artisan a series of instructions, asking them to do things like switch colors at the beginning of each new work session.
"My goal," explains Zittel in a statement, "is to make a work that is simultaneously a highly rendered artisan object, conceptual art, and functional object." She points to Mies van der Rohe, who would hang Navajo rugs on the wall next to Rothko paintings. "On one hand we want to fill our lives with beautiful and well designed objects," she writes. "… And on the other hand we yearn for objects that are charged with the authority of art history and/or ideological content."
One word pops up again and again in the show (even in its title): panel. Zittel is fascinated by panels, which for her, are the ultimate hybrid object—a panel can be part of a table, chair, floor, or wall. "A panel is a perfect example of an amorphous form that can slip between categories and social roles depending on subtle contextual shifts," she says. Each piece on view at Andrea Rosen, then, is a kind of panel—from the textiles, to the installations, to the carpets, and the framed illustrations.
What’s fascinating about Zittel is how she projects herself and her work (which exists online on a faux-corporate website that casts her as the leader of a company called A-Z Administrative Services). On the one hand, she presents us with a deft intellectual explanation of her work (Fluid Panel State even comes with a PowerPoint presentation). On the other hand, she blogs informally about the pieces as she’s making them, posting images of her summer intern frolicking beneath one of the textiles, for example. It’s a stereoscopic effect—critical and personal at the same time—which is reflected in her work.
The show is on view until October 27th.