EARLY WORKS: ALICE AYCOCK
IntroductionFor Berlin Art Week 2018, Galerie Thomas Schulte opens a comprehensive exhibition showing early works by the American artist Alice Aycock. After studying with Robert Morris at Hunter College, Aycock was one of youngest members during the 1970s of the circle of artists around Gordon Matta-Clark and New York’s legendary 112 Greene Street Gallery. In the context of Land Art and Postminimalism, Aycock created a series of pioneering installations of wood, stone, and concrete already in her early years that move between sculpture, architecture, and landscape. This exhibition shows not only two of her early installations, but also drawings and photographs from her important early projects, including her contribution to Documenta 6. Her drawings and photographs should not be considered mere documentation of the projects realized, but also as forms of expression and thought all on their own that Aycock developed parallel to her sculptures.
For this exhibition, Aycock’s first, process-based installation Sand/Fans will be reconstructed for the gallery’s Corner Space. The work was presented for the first time in 1971 at the legendary 112 Greene Street Gallery, which had been opened a year before by artist Jeffrey Lew. For the installation, the artist brought thousands of kilograms of sand into the gallery space and arranged four fans around a pile of sand. The fans opposite one another generated air currents that eventually spread the sand in wave patterns. Sand/Fans is significant for Aycock’s later work in several ways. She returned to revolving rotor blades as a motif with her “Blade Machines” in the 1980s that were at the center of her travelling exhibition in Europe, “Retrospective of Projects and Ideas 1972-1983,” starting at Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart in 1983. Wind and wave motion are also significant influences on her most recent Twister/Turbulence series of sculptures. It is important for Aycock that art trigger not just intellectual, but also physical, emotional reactions in the viewer. At the same time, Sand/Fans is, as an early Earth Work, a piece in which Aycock positioned herself in the debate around Robert Smithson’s concepts of entropy and the non-site.
The interaction of the viewer with the artwork was brought to the foreground in Maze as well, a project that is presented on photo wallpaper and with sketches and photographs in the gallery’s Window Space. Due to her great interest in architecture and architectural history, which she shared with many of her fellow artists at Greene Street, Aycock discovered a circular plan for an Egyptian labyrinth that was conceived as a prison. With the labyrinth, she found a form to initiate feelings of disorientation in the viewer. “I took the relationship between my point of entry and the surrounding land for granted, but often lost my sense of direction when I came back out. From one time to the next, I forgot the interconnections between the pathways and kept rediscovering new sections.” The accessible sculpture, realized in 1972 near New Kingston, Pennsylvania, became Aycock’s first work that is only completed with the participation of the beholder, quite in the sense of Manfred Schneckenburger’s concept of “sculpture as a form of action.”
The next year Low Building with Dirt Roof (for Mary) 1973 was also created on the grounds of Gibney Farm. Aycock dedicated this project to her young niece who died tragically. This project as well as the projects realized a few years later Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels (1975) and Project for a Vertical Maze: Four Superimposed Cruciform Buildings (1975) are all shaped equally by Aycock’s knowledge of archaeology and her fascination for psychological states of claustrophilia and claustrophobia. The photographs of the built work together with the drawings create a psychophysical experience for the viewer. The works are set up as exploratory situations for the perceiver. This experience is important to Stairs (These Stairs Can be Climbed), a high wooden set of risers and treads that ends close to the ceiling and was first shown at Greene Street Gallery in 1974. Stairs challenges the viewer to climb up the stairs. With each rising step, the climber gets closer to the ceiling and has to bend over more and more. Ultimately as the climber arrives at the top of the stairs to nowhere (a dead end) a feeling of narrow confinement grows. At the same time the climber has a view of the entire space from above. The physical experience of climbing the stairs can also be a metaphor for the experience of life itself.
Although Land Art sought to replace the vertical, “figurative mode” with a horizontal, “landscape mode,” not only Gordon Matta-Clark, with Jacob’s Ladder, but Aycock as well, in her contribution to Documenta 6 The Beginnings of a Complex… (1977), created works that rose in the vertical. Of the five above ground vertical structures connected by underground tunnels that were planned for Kassel – Project Entitled “The Beginnings of a Complex…” (For Documenta, 1977), only two towers were realized. A third structure, a step-like façade wall accessible by way of ladders was added for the final built work. In this work which references Hollywood movie sets among other things, architecture serves as a backdrop for a narrative that viewers construct for themselves. The architectural structures create a set of directions for a performance by the viewer. Aycock was able to complete a third of the five originally planned structures that same year at Artpark in Lewiston, New York with the title Five Walls, an aerial labyrinth in which the viewer moves from ladders through window walls and back the same way. “It seems possible to imagine a complex which exists in the world as a thing in itself, exposing the conditions of its own becoming, and which exists apart from the world as a model for it.”
Alice Aycock (*1946, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) lives and works in New York City. Her work was presented in solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1980). Major group exhibitions include the 1979 and 1981 Whitney Biennials in NYC and Content: A Contemporary Focus, 1974–86 at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. In Germany Aycock was first presented at Documenta 6 (1977) and in 1983/84 in a comprehensive travelling exhibition at Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, and Skulpturenmuseum, Marl. After more than twenty years Galerie Thomas Schulte presented in 2010 the first exhibition of the artist in Germany in the gallery’s space in Berlin. Aycock’s work was included in the first major museum survey on Land Art Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974 at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Haus der Kunst in Munich (2012) as well as Materializing ‘Six Years’: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art at the Brooklyn Museum (2012/13). An extensive catalogue on her drawings has been published in conjunction with her retrospective at the Grey Art Gallery (New York University) and the Parish Art Museum. The exhibition travelled to the University Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2014.
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