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Back to Reviews 98


andrea zittel's raugh
by Dominique Nahas  

Andrea Zittel
foreground: detail of RAUGH Furniture: Lucinda;
left-center: RAUGH Furniture: Jack, 1998

RAUGH at the Basel Art Fair

RAUGH installed,
with posters made from video stills

Still from "Rules of Raugh"
   Andrea Zittel, Raugh, "May 28-July 17," at Andrea Rosen, 525 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.

For the inaugural exhibition at Andrea Rosen's new Chelsea space, artist Andrea Zittel designed a user-friendly indoor habitat that she titled Raugh (pronounced "raw"). The space was filled with two large, artificial stepped rock formations made of soft gray foam, their topographical layers strewn with magazines and newspapers. The walls were painted with racing stripes and a videotape played on a monitor in the corner. At the opening, the set was inhabited by a group of nude models, lounging in its reading nooks and crannies.

The installation has some of the twisted logic of a New Yorker cartoon. A jungle explorer stumbles upon a group of early homo-sapiens who are nonchalantly appraising the current issues of Vanity Fair and Spin, thus displaying a time-warped path up the evolutionary ladder. Equally dramatically, Raugh is a witty and wise addition to Zittel's continuing investigation of the interplay of modernist esthetics, efficiency and social determinism.

Part Flintstones, part rumpus room and part habitat, Raugh gently pokes fun at the massive earth sculptures of Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. At the same time this exhibition was part of the artist's "A-Z project," which has in the past explored aspects of space-usage and the social imperatives that shape the relationships of class and sex. The artist's former, utilitarian approach to Minimalism -- trim, stylish living modules, for instance -- was certainly undermined by this gigantic and cumbersome exhibition that fused an Austin Powers hip retro-modernismo feel (note the racing stripes) with an element of inspired serenity.

In the past Zittel has been concerned with the way that modernism effects attitudes of efficiency and taste, attitudes that extend through concepts of hygiene, morality, social mobility and class structure. The residual primness that dampened Zitttel's earlier work is absent from Raugh, however. In this exhibition, the artist covered her ideological concerns in a seemingly less regulated, more natural and nervier way. When this observer was at the gallery, Raugh seemed to be a hit with young kids, who were climbing to the top ledges of each artificial mountain and leaping delightedly to the soft formations below.

Meanwhile, adult visitors were sitting on the lower peripheries gamely watching the Raugh video monitor placed on the gallery floor in a corner of the space. The program is hilarious. It playfully explains Zittel's "Rules of Raugh" which, when followed, create an eco-friendly, stress-free environment that allows you to be . . . well . . . your primal self. The artist's sensible den-mother strategies include making sure that your Raugh living space is comfortable, that it absorbs dirt, that it deteriorates naturally and effectively. It is a space that anyone can make or find him- or herself in, a "fabulous" place made with and surrounded by found, recycled materials.

This is an endearing and sensible position to take. Zittel's fake-rock formations, an urban installation anchored in what is now ostensibly one of the most spacious of Chelsea gallery spaces, reminded me of the late architect Bruce Goff's use of found materials to create unusual, if campy, close-to-the-earth living quarters. Zittel's Shaker-like utilitarianism, her mindset of purity and simplicity touched off a refrain in my head of folk-western songwriter Iris Dement's "Let the mystery be."

Raugh's Rousseauian aspect has perhaps less to do with leisure and the search for self-fulfillment as it suggests a critique of an overriding leisurelessness induced by our fast-track post-technological society. The incredible productivity gains of a high-tech world have caused a well-educated labor force to work longer and longer hours to keep up with ratcheted-up demands of production and marketing induced by more efficient information and retrieval systems while diminishing the time allotted to family concerns and recreation. A thought-provoking installation, Raugh showed Andrea Zittel at her unlikely best.

DOMINIQUE NAHAS is a New York based independent curator and critic. His is co-curator (with Ingrid Schaffner, Harry Philbrick and Richard Klein) of "Pop Surrealism" at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., June 7-Aug. 30, 1998.