Tuesday, 24 June 2008



The present show at Regen Projects, LA - Energetic Accumulators and Token Exchanges – continues to adapt furniture to precise tasks of day to day living; in this case mainly desk spaces for stacking small, miscellaneous items, in satisfying arrangements. Of course, the artist’s tasks seem mainly the adaptation of her day to day surroundings, giving the project a certain circular logic, but her concerns are really hypothetical rather than practical.

Zittel’s work is often comic, exaggerating the reductive functions supposed by domestic design, the life confined to such minimal terms, simple needs and rigid organisation. An intense conformity is partly the point. The absurd dictates of ‘form follows function’ or ‘a machine for living’ results only in life becoming more formalised, more machine-like. But beyond her demonstrations of simple (self) construction from inexpensive materials, there is also a strangely alienated, behaviouristic view of life, a need to define activities so concretely, in terms of objects to hand, for lack of any larger – especially interactive or interpersonal – ambit. It is design that fusses over the details to domestic order to allay more central concerns; that plays at a self-containment and isolation there rather than work at more testing circumstances. It is design for the person without purpose.

Alternatively, the work allows such items to be taken on sculptural or formal terms, as an arrangement of materials, irrespective of function, and to demonstrate underlying links between fine and applied art, to urge a broader definition of ‘function’. Zittel is one of a number of artists, including Carsten Höller, Jorge Pardo, Tobias Rehberger (see also Post 8) and Franz West, that use furniture, fixtures and architectural features to broaden sculpture thus, to anchor installation to explicit design issues.

Such work relies less upon judicious display of found items – the ‘ready-made’ – than on commissioned fabrication – as the ‘readily-made’ and in this participates in a wider trend (see also Posts 25 and 49). However for Zittel, fabrication is mostly concerned with simplified and D-I-Y steps, modest and common materials, so this aspect is less pronounced than for example in a Koons or Rehberger. Furthermore, the design is sometimes so general that its realisation takes on more of a collaboration with particular builders, whom Zittel duly credits. This gives the work a less certain trajectory, undercuts the crucial distinction between design and function and means that it is not always clear in what sense the work stands as a model – how literal or hypothetical its application might be.

Her early work presented schemes for mating pigeons, as both elegant wooden abstraction – in particular recalling the Minimalist modules of Donald Judd – and practical models for avian breeding. The stark contrast between dedicated function and formal beauty is part of a steady challenge to formal properties in sculpture, following Minimalism. ‘Materials’ then gradually include uses and methods – ‘maximise’ properties – while abstraction subtly inherits connotations of authority and control. But it is when Zittel exchanges birds for humans, switches from breeding to isolating specimens, that her work gains greater complexity. As noted, the concentration on the individual and the isolation of (usually) her needs, takes on a whimsical quality as activities are arbitrarily assigned cubicles, costumes, localities and furnishings. Zittel’s work ranges from painting and prints to sculptures, installations, with lighting fixtures, storage units, carpet and shelving, demonstrating the phases to planning, promotion and merchandising, inevitably including a website.

The emphasis upon self-containment reaches its peak in Prototype for a Pocket Property (1999) literally a small island built for one, from concrete, apparently free-floating and located somewhere off the coast of Denmark. Typically the model is, in some respects, literally a small island, in others no more than a pretence or metaphor for profound withdrawal or abandon. A later project in the high desert of California provides a permanent location for equally remote or far-fetched abodes. It too has a website.

But increasingly, Zittel’s attention seems to lie with the association or combination of possessions, with fundamental questions of affinities and categories. Her Prototype for a Billboard (2005) confidently announces their crucial yet illusory role. Significantly, the billboard features a pair of birds, held in disembodied hands, beside barren bushes, the lower portions of which are left unpainted, along with a square – presumably for text – to the left of the birds. The unpainted timber may be part of the design, may simply be that for which the artist as yet can find no plan or category, may be illusion or ‘the way the world works’ in spite of all plans. Either way, the artist finally does not hold with certainty of function.


CAP said...

The Rosen Gallery website has very recently removed enlargements of the reproductions placed in their modest slide shows along the top of each artist’s page, making it difficult to link to particular works, even more difficult to read the text in particular, to Zittel’s Prototype for a Billboard (2005) discussed above.

The three blocks of text – placed upon dark brown backgrounds read -
(top right)
These things I know for sure.
(centre, left)
#1 It is a human trait to want to organize things into categories.
(bottom, right)
Inventing categories creates an illusion that there is an overriding rationale in the way that the world works.

To zoom in on the jpeg provided in the slide show only reveals a lack of focus. It is difficult to see how this economy improves the appreciation of the artist’s work, or shows any more respect for its presentation by the gallery.

Jacques de Beaufort said...

major yawn

CAP said...

Thanks for the feedback JDB. But now I'm wondering was she a yawn before you read my post, only after it, or both?

If both, you're obviously a glutton for punishment, or I'm flattered by your attention. If only after, you might suggest what I've missed in her work?

Also, do you think she looks like a younger Shelley Duvall?

Jacques de Beaufort said...


I think she is a cult leader

I hate LA conceptualism and the whole Jorge Pardo/Pae White Design in the artworld scam, so I'm probably not in the general artworld ponzi scheme reality tunnel

it's like Target with pretension

fucking gross

society would change for the better if this whole Duchampian cancer were excised from the cannon

CAP said...

The desert retreat deal is VERY like a cult base. Her talk of 'we' on her websites, also has an implied and suspect royalty. It's all pretty coy - like her work. I’m suspicious of that side myself.

I like 'Target with pretension' - maybe 'Target with condescension' - hits home as well. But Target before Rodeo Drive most definitely.

People always target poor old Duchamp, I think a little unfairly. Picasso started it with his version of collage, switching over from 2-D to 3-D and back in the twinkling of an eye. All Duchamp did was show what it could do without the 2-D anchor.

Because Duchamp was anti-painting after a short while, people always think his 3-D stuff is all about anti-painting too. But this is a mistake. Leave him to his folly of ‘retinal’ painting (a flawed reading of Impressionism really). 3-D stuff is 3-D stuff. Is inverting a urinal another way of appreciating abstract shapes/finish/industrial design? It goes to the heart of what sculptural abstraction is, really. Is abstraction a cancer on the canon as well?

That seems a bit drastic. Painting can co-exist with 3-D stuff, always has. The figurative plainly co-exists with abstraction. The Zit is welcome to her bit. But I think we know it’s just deserts.

Jacques de Beaufort said...

I think my beef with Duchamp is the idea of "disengagement"...in other words the art is never materially present, but has been sequestered into some theoretical palace and walled in with language and syntax. We are meant to experience Duchampian work as an intellectual exercise, this is an interesting practice, but it prevents human beings from actually feeling their reality. As a dominant trope in the artworld, the de-materialization of art only serves to deepen the divide between the felt presence of our immediate experience, and a denial and abnegation of our deepest selves. The more theoretical and immaterial art becomes, the more our spirit drifts further and further from it's own realization. Witness the schizophrenia of the 21st century. The earth is on fire but we can hardly rouse ourselves to look at the thermostat. I lay blame at the feet of Conceptualism, which has made art into an academic exercise and purged from it the visceral connection to our Anima Mundi. In the coming years, the fallout from our collective decision to become passive nihilists will be made real and we will feel whether we like it or not. To conceptualists, the shock may be jarring, and probably too much. Dommage.

CAP said...

Yours is certainly the prevailing view on Duchamp and Conceptualism. I see them differently. I don’t accept that Duchamp’s work is about ideas at the expense of objects, or immaterial. I don’t accept that Conceptualism is either. For my view of Conceptualism see Post 33 (on Sol LeWitt - see side list/link to the blog).

Duchamp takes ‘ready-made’ objects, but he’s actually very careful about which kinds of objects he takes, about how he re-presents them. It’s never a question of ‘anything can be art just because I say so’. It’s not about a general idea of presentation, it’s very specific, very personal. It’s mostly about appreciating certain manufactured goods, literally from a different angle, or context. It’s really not so different from Picasso’s approach to collage – which is where it comes from. It may look easy, may almost go unnoticed, but that’s actually where the tease or provocation is – not so different from Expressionism or Abstraction in that respect. In the case of Etant Donnés it’s of a very strict and deliberate point of view, of variously theatrical props.

So I don’t see anything exclusively intellectual or non-sensual about his work – I don’t actually think it’s the overwhelming influence on Conceptualism that is generally allowed. Part of the problem is Duchamp’s own statements – as with his dismissal of ‘retinal’ painting, - based on a flawed knowledge of how closely the eye and brain are related – are just wrong and when not, often misleading. I don’t think he’s necessarily the best judge of what he does.

I’m not a big fan of intention determining meaning, obviously.

I agree there’s a lot wrong with the artworld – but I don’t blame the artists – I blame the world. We have bad art because we have a bad world, it’s telling us how bad it is. All that sterile academic writing on art could just as easily be 19th century classics scholars arguing about some elaborate allusion to Homer or Ovid in traditional history painting – now they waffle on about Bruce Nauman or Robert Smithson – but that’s not really the fault of the artists or their works. The ‘academic exercise’ has its own momentum and agenda and the artworld only resorts to it when it has nothing better for text.

Jacques de Beaufort said...

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

CAP said...

Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to this – track down the quotation and mull over an interpretation – not before recognizing a recent film title as well!
Anyway I guess you’re nailing your colours to the mast of some Byzantine ideal, while the rest of us prefer the devil we know.
I pick my moments and live to fight a less certain war. I’m all for poetry in leisurely pursuit, but I’ll scan it for prose and cons, make my calls and keep them cute.