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Review> Scripting Tall Tales
William Menking in the recent exhibition, Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating.
Star Sifter, 1998.
Collection of Hugh J. Freund

Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating
Parrish Art Museum and Grey Art Gallery
Closed July 13

There are many well-known artists in the middle of their careers who claim their current work is “better now than when I was young.” Alice Aycock, an artist who emerged from the cultural ferment of 1970s, can make that claim truthfully. When she began showing in New York, her work at first seemed to come primarily out of Robert Morris–like minimalism and the constructivism of figures, in the manner of Gordon Matta-Clark. The work (at least architects believed) was playing primarily with notions of scale, space, and construction; but it is now clear it was really about so much more.

The Glass Bead Game: Circling ‘Round the Ka’Ba, 1985 (left). A Salutation to The Wonderful Pig of Knowledge, 1984 (center). Rock, Paper, Scissors (India '07), 2010 (right).
Collection of Stephen Kramarsky; Courtesy Alice Aycock; Courtesy Miami Art Museum

During this period she explained that her works were “exploratory situations for the perceiver. They can be known only by moving one’s body through them. They involve experiential time and memory.” In particular, she built or proposed several projects for buried or partially-buried structures, including Tunnel/Well Project, Project for Five Wells Descending a Hillside, Project for a Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels, Project for Three Concrete Chambers Entered Through an Underground Tunnel. This work was tough, hard-edged, beautifully rendered and always aware of the possibility that architecture can carry messages larger than simple enclosures and markers for the power of clients. This work was shown in her recent exhibition at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, which featured intricate scale models and images of her site-specific installations, all landmarks of 1970s constructed art works.

From the Series Entitled, “Sum Over Histories”:Timescape #5 Over the Landscape of the Pacific Ocean, 2011.
Courtesy Alice Aycock

Early in her career, Aycock chaffed against the notion that her work should be simply categorized. The catalogue for her recently concluded exhibition at the Parrish Museum in East Hampton quotes her effort to explain her misunderstood intentions. Aycock wrote, “Using the conventional vocabulary or sign system of architecture—doors, walls, roofs, ladders, floors, chimneys, shafts, wells, platforms—as a set of directions for a performance (as a structure for an event), it is possible to create a vocabulary of disjunction. This vocabulary of disjunction is in the tradition of Bosch, Piranesi, Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu, Smithson, and many others.” Further, the work’s autobiographical nature was carried by fictive stories that she learned from her family’s tradition of storytelling. This pushed Ayccok to create works that enticed people into spaces of disbarring unpleasantness and out of body certainties.

Masonry Enclosure: Project for a Doorway—Section, 1976 (left). Project Entitled “The City of the Walls: A Narrow City, A Thin City...”, 1978 (right).
Courtesy National Gallery of Art; Courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Aycock’s current work carries on this storytelling and the desire to bring people into uncomfortable yet compelling spaces. She digitally tracks natural events like hurricanes and then takes the patterns that emerge to create beautifully drawn and rendered worlds inside of worlds that spiral out into the future. Aycock’s work has moved from one sort of spatial analysis and creation to the unknown world of what architects like to call “scripting.” She is aware of this new world: “Now I only remember a little: Michelson-Morley and the constancy of the speed of light; Einstein and his clock paradox; Max Planck and his quanta; Picasso and his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and poof. The stability of the Newtonian world is gone. A pity it was so hard won.” She’s right, that world is gone, but her current work is not much different than what an architect like Thom Mayne seems to have done at Cooper Union: The structure, one imagines, was once like any normal building. Then it was canted and pitched to be out of sorts with the surrounding world, while enticingly pointing to a more exciting realm.

William Menking

William Menking is AN’s Editor-in-Chief.