Canadian Architect


Andrea Zittel: Critical Space at the Vancouver Art Gallery

June 3, 2007
by Canadian Architect

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is the only Canadian venue to present Andrea Zittel: Critical Space, the first comprehensive solo exhibition of the artists work in North America. One of the most unique American artists of the past two decades, Zittel explores contemporary Western society by drawing on elements of architecture, geography and consumer culture to illuminate the underpinnings of modern domestic life. The exhibition, on view at the Gallery from June 11 to September 30, 2007, is co-organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, the first two venues of the exhibitions North American tour.

Zittels groundbreaking work is a brilliant convergence of architecture, design and installation art, said Bruce Grenville, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery. With a balance of optimism and irony, the exhibition provides an intriguing look into the artists creative and insightful world. For the past 15 years, Zittel has used aspects of her own day-to-day life as the stimulus for her art. Transforming her personal experiences with public/private space, fashion, shelter, transportation, food consumption and refuge into art objects, Zittel’s interdisciplinary approach allows her to investigate fundamental aspects of contemporary life. Since 1991, the artist has produced and marketed her work under the corporate identity “A-Z Administrative Services.” The exhibition examines the methods Zittel employs as an artist, designer, consultant and advocate under this corporate banner in order to question how individuals behave in a society dominated by consumerism and corporate branding.

Co-curated by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston curator Paola Morsiani and New Museum of Contemporary Art curator Trevor Smith, the exhibition features more than 60 works created between 1991 and 2007, bringing together a large selection of Zittels habitats, installations, drawings and documentation for the first time. Her wide-ranging body of work can be seen as part of a dialogue between such diverse artists and movements as Jenny Holzer, Dan Graham, Constructivism and the Bauhaus school.

Highlights of the exhibition include examples of Zittels AZ Escape Vehicles and AZ Living Units, which challenge ideas of space, sustenance and relaxation, and AZ Uniforms, which reassert the importance of utility in fashion. AZ Escape Vehicle Owned and Customized by Andrea Rosen (1996) is one of several capsules created in collaboration with owners. Though identical on the exterior, the interior of each A-Z Escape Vehicle is completely customized to the owners specifications and desires. Modelled on the shape of a conventional mobile RV unit, the 100-cubic-foot capsules provide isolation for personal refuge and have been decked out by their owners as a floatation tank, luxurious mauve velvet hideaway and naturalistic grotto complete with waterfall.

The large-scale installation AZ Cellular Compartment Units (2001) is intended to turn the space of a studio apartment into a two-floor, multi-room habitat. The installation is created from 10 interconnected boxes (each 122 x 122 x 244cm) where each basic human need or desire is given its own designated cell. With each compartment associated solely with one pastime or task sleeping, eating, reading, meditation, etc. the artist suggests that the inhabitants level of engagement with the structures prescribed activities may be altered. By doing this, Zittel questions if architecture controls our use of time and space, or if our aspirations affect architectural design. Developed as a personal living experiment, Zittel lived in AZ Cellular Compartment Units for a period of time to research its feasibility.

AZ Fiber Form Uniforms (2003) are an evolution of Zittels A-Z Personal Uniforms series, which the artist formulated as a response to the social dictates of changing clothes every day. By wearing a single uniform-style outfit for six months, she eliminated the stress of choosing a daily outfit. AZ Fiber Form Uniforms are the result of Zittels gravitation toward an increasingly direct way of making clothing. After the creation of the A-Z Single Strand Uniforms created by crocheting strands of yarn directly off of her fingers Zittel began to consider how a strand of wool could be reduced to an elemental form. Consequently, she developed a technique in which wool was “felted” directly into the shape of a seamless shirt or dress. The exhibition also features the first presentation of a body of works created under the rubric of A-Z Smockshop. A further evolution of the A-Z Personal Uniforms series, smocks are designed by Zittel and produced by a group of smockers who reinterpret Zittels design based on their own individual skill sets, tastes and interests. More information can be found at

Andrea Zittel was born in Escondido, California in 1965, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, California. She obtained an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has appeared in numerous solo exhibitions including Andrea Zittel: New Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1995); AZ Deserted Islands, The Public Art Fund, Central Park, New York (1999); and Andrea Zittel Personal Programs, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2000). Group exhibitions in which Zittels work has been featured include Aperto 93: Emergency, XLV Biennale di Venezia, Italy (1993); Sense and Sensibility: Women Artists and Minimalism in the Nineties (1994) and Tempo (2002), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the 1995 and 2004 biennial exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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