Andrea Zittel makes sculptures, installations, and weavings that transform the essentials of life into artful experiments in living. Her projects extend to her own home and clothing as she constantly reinvents her relationship to her domestic and social environment. The artist examines aspects of life that are taken for granted and makes hand-crafted solutions so that people’s needs can match their surroundings.
Zittel grew up spending time on her grandparents’ ranch in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, south of Joshua Tree National Park. In 1988, she received a B.F.A. in painting and sculpture from San Diego State University. In 1990, she earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a visiting artist at Columbia University’s M.F.A. program.
In the 1990s, Zittel’s one-woman mock organization “A-Z Administrative Service” developed furniture, homes, clothing, and vehicles for contemporary people with a similar penchant for simplicity and order. She made her A-Z Comfort Units and A-Z Wagon Stations to give people a sense of purpose and liberation.
In 2000, she moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to five acres of desert in Joshua Tree, California. Most of the work that she makes today is connected to her life in the desert where her home, art studio, weaving space, encampments, guest cabin, shipping container studio, and more are situated now on more than fifty acres at her “A-Z West“ compound.
In 1999, Zittel’ created “A-Z Pocket Property,” a forty-four-ton floating fantasy island off the coast of Denmark. It was commissioned by the Danish government to contrast the extremes of a creative escape with the isolation that happens when a person is removed from society. In 2010, Zittel made another floating island “Indianapolis Island” at the nature park at The Indianapolis Museum of Art.
She considers her 2011 project “A – Z West: Big Rock on Hill Behind House” to be a testing ground for living where her life and art are intertwined. This piece is a billboard which consists of AC plywood, polyurethane, and matte acrylic paint. It depicts clusters of boulders typical of those found in and around Joshua Tree with a vast desert landscape in the distance. Overhead on the image is a white grid-like outline that resembles an architectural floor plan. Her billboard is one of a series of large works, painted on plywood in a straightforward style similar to illustration. These works often contain autobiographical references and make direct allusions to her environment.
Zittel is drawn to the frontier mentality. Her “Wagon Station Encampment” is the second iteration of her A-Z Wagon Stations and contains twelve portable one-person shelters or pods. She hosts artist residencies on her property and opens her property to the public two times a year so that people can come together in a retreat-like setting. Each person has her own steel and aluminum sleeping pod, designed by Zittel. Each contains a bed, a door, and a shelf. The pod can be closed up like a cocoon with a cover that allows for light and for a view of the desert. The door behind the bed can be opened for air. There is a communal kitchen, outdoor showers, and composting toilets. People can come together if they want or they can be solitary in their own pod. Visitors can be inspired from the merging of landscape, architecture, and the sense of community.
Zittel’s latest body of work consists of sculptural furniture pieces, called “Planar Configurations.” They make use of flat surfaces and dramatic right angles in minimal shapes and with a restricted color palette. They are mostly open cubicles with extended walls. “Planar Configuration Four” is the largest one and has higher walls and extra extensions. The pieces are modular in design with many of her weavings and wool tapestries giving warmth to the harshness of steel and aluminum. Zittel was featured in the Venice Biennale in 1993, Documenta X, and was twice included in the Whitney Biennial. She has had solo exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, and in 2019 an exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum. She has had a career retrospective that was exhibited at five major museums, one of which was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Modern in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.