Andreas Zittel is one of the most prominent installation and conceptual artists in the world. For nearly 20 years she has been making art that forces us to look at how and where we live, the way our lives are constrained by the spaces that we choose to conceal them within. Many people think conceptual art is the next step in the evolution of art. It brings ideas and ideologies into art in a way that the more traditional forms never did. In the past, art focused mostly on aesthetics—how beautiful or decorative something could be—but the history of art in the 20th century shows that ideas and concepts began to play a bigger and bigger role (Tate). A famous painting like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is a good example of a work of art that combines aesthetics with concepts—it is colourful and strange and plays with perspective. Indeed, prior to World War II there had been the beginnings of a movement away from the rigid and mainstream culture that dominated the period. There had been cultural adventurers who began to describe an alternate human existence, one separate from the basic and largely accepted classical one which was shackled to religion, dependent on a strict, undisputable morality, and moving as one forward towards a distant goal—the grand journey called the Progress of Civilization. Politically, the world was changing too. The rise of Marxism in Russia—as witnessed by the first, failed attempt at revolution in 1905—indicated that the old order was weakening and a new one waiting in the wings to strike. So it was in the cultural world. The tension between these fringe artists and the mainstream led at first to acts of hostility and rejection—as seen at the Armory Show in New York in 1910 that rejected Marcel Duchamp’s famous work “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2” because of its radicalism. This tension was also evident in one of the most famous occasions in the history of music: the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” which elicited a riot from the concert-goers due to its strange new techniques and subject matter. It was an extraordinary time. Zittel’s work comes out of this illustrious tradition. It questions many of the assumptions that underlie our day to day lives, in particular our living spaces and where we choose to live. As we see art approaching the millennium, much of the aesthetic aspect of art—what is beautiful—gets thrown out and replaced by an idea that creates a thrill (not just of beauty, perhaps also of fear or shock)—the concept behind the piece becomes paramount. Zittel is primarily a conceptual artist in this mode.
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Zittel art mostly consists of living spaces that force us to examine our own living spaces. She has for example created a floating island off the coast of Denmark and a 60 square foot apartment. To emphasis the themes of these work she often adds herself into the mix, living in the spaces for short time as a kind of experiment. This is not a new idea. Vito Acconci used to do something similar and somewhat more aggressively. Nevertheless, Zittel’s work forces us to question ourselves and the ideas we take for granted.
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