March 1 – May 11
Artists Space is pleased to present Dream Lines, an exhibition of the visionary drawings of Marian Zazeela. Beginning with her abstract calligraphy of 1962, this exhibition traces the radical processes and evolution of Zazeela's graphic work, presenting seminal and formative drawings that became foundational in the development of her light works, many of which are being publicly displayed for the first time.
“The writhing rising out of the word is a dragon devouring itself. Like a cat cleaning her fur the tongue of the word licks its scales with flame and the body of the word ignites and takes the shape of its destruction. . . .The second dream is the story of its past life, but it does not recognize itself in its previous form. Several lives later the dream recurs. Several dreams later the life recurs.”
– Marian Zazeela, The Soul of the Word, 1963
For the past sixty-three years, Zazeela has been a central figure of the New York avant-garde. Her expansive practice encompassing painting, calligraphic drawing, film, light projection, stage design, sculpture, and light environments applies rigorous formal procedures to enact states of transcendence. After studying with Paul Feeley, Eugene C. Goossen, and Tony Smith at Bennington College, Zazeela first exhibited her paintings in New York—works comprising calligraphic strokes suspended in expansive color fields—at the 92nd Street Y in 1960. Immersing herself in a Downtown literary and art scene that included LeRoi Jones, A. B. Spellman, Angus MacLise, George Maciunas, and many others, she soon became the muse of legendary filmmaker Jack Smith, collaborating on his seminal photography project The Beautiful Book (1962) and his infamous debut film, Flaming Creatures (1963).
In 1962, Zazeela produced a series of highly singular drawings that charted the course of her subsequent work: “Through my interest in abstract calligraphy I conceived the idea of borrowing from the forms of letters by taking elemental shapes already existing in cursive writing and manipulating them to create interlocking patterns.” Employing both improvisation and an increasing array of rigorous compositional techniques, Zazeela’s ornamental shapes render the page a concentrated visual field of startlingly complex design. She soon began to obliterate words, repeat and mirror letter forms (often the initials MZ and LY, those of her partner, La Monte Young), and enact complex modular permutations as some of the means to achieve her exquisite, precise abstractions.
Zazeela began her partnership with composer La Monte Young in mid-1962 and since then her work has most often been experienced within their collaboration. Her light installations, projections, album art, graphics, and poster designs have defined the visual and environmental aspects of their output—first within the early New York Downtown avant-garde underground, The Theatre of Eternal Music (alongside John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, and others), and continuing with Young to the present. Zazeela has defined one strain of her output as “borderline art,” a concept with a double meaning: “With this approach I sought to create an art form that ‘borders’ and challenges the conventional distinction between decorative and fine art by using decorative elements in the fine art tradition. Concurrently, I also created drawings in which borders become the actual content of the works themselves.” Zazeela and Young have lived since 1963 at 275 Church Street in New York, two blocks from Artists Space, and since 1993 their collaborative Dream House has been on continuous view at this address.
Dream Lines offers an unprecedented opportunity to see an extensive gathering of Zazeela’s drawing innovations—from her earliest calligraphic experiments and language deconstructions to glyph-based modular permutations, to later name portraits employing symmetrical, retrograde and mirror-inverted images that detach the written word from its meaning, to still-later fields of dense collinear dots evoking electromagnetic forces and other natural phenomena.
Dream Lines: Marian Zazeela is organized by Artists Space in collaboration with Jung Hee Choi and MELA Foundation.