The Grey Art Gallery at New York University is presenting Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating, an exhibition in two venues, in partnership with the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY. The first comprehensive exploration of this vital aspect of the renowned sculptor’s creative process, the exhibition has been organized by Parrish Art Museum Adjunct Curator Jonathan Fineberg, Gutgsell Professor of Art History Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The show traces Aycock’s career from 1971 to the present, highlighting the major themes that have governed her artistic practice. Alice Aycock Drawings will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery from April 23 through July 13, 2013, and at the Parrish Art Museum from April 21 through July 13, 2013.
While Aycock is best known for her large-scale installations and outdoor sculptures, her drawings capture the full range of her ideas and sources. Consisting of approximately 100 works, the exhibition will be presented in two parts. The Grey Art Gallery’s installation focuses on the years 1971 to 1984 and features 48 works, including detailed architectural drawings, sculptural maquettes, and photo documentation for both realized and imagined projects. The 55 works in the Parrish Art Museum’s section cover the years 1984 to the present, when Aycock developed an increasingly elaborate visual vocabulary, drawing upon a multitude of sources and facilitated in part by the use of computer programs.
“We are pleased to co-present this major survey of works on paper by leading American sculptor Alice Aycock,” notes Grey Art Gallery Director Lynn Gumpert. “Aycock’s artistic practice is not only highly interdisciplinary—spanning the divide between art, architecture, and science—but also rooted in nearby SoHo, where she has kept a studio since 1976.” Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan writes in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, “Aycock is an artist who thinks on paper. Her spectacular drawings are equal parts engineering plan and science-fiction imagining. As in all of her work, fantastic narrative writings weave in and out of her images, inspiring her production of sculptural objects, drawings, and installations.”
Alice Aycock first produced working drawings for imaginary projects in the early 1970s, at the same time as she began creating site-specific structures on an architectural scale. The Grey Art Gallery’s installation includes a broad selection of drawings, ranging from conceptual ideamaking to detailed working documents for the construction of intricate and challenging monumental installations, as well as photographic documentation of projects realized before 1984. Just as the early constructions choreographed the viewer through a mixture of psychological sensations, the early drawings from this period, among them Project for a Vertical Maze (1975) and Project for Five Wells Descending a Hillside (1975), depict imagined architectural constructions designed to elicit feelings ranging from comfort and security to anxiety and distress.
In the late 1970s, language began to figure more prominently in Aycock’s work, in the form of increasingly elaborate and allusive titles and narratives that reflected the many sources she mined for ideas—contemporary and obsolete science, philosophies and belief systems, mythology, fantastic architecture, archeology, family history, literature, and clinical psychology texts, especially those dealing with the language of schizophrenia. Several major drawings from this period are on view at the Grey. Project Entitled: “A Shanty Town Whose Lunatic Charms…” (Project Entitled: “A Shanty Town Inhabited by Two Lunatics…”), from 1978, depicts 36 different buildings and is accompanied by a 1,000-word “story” that mixes genres to create a faux film treatment complete with background music, characters, and action, all of which turn narrative conventions on their heads. Project Entitled “The City of the Walls: A Narrow City, A Thin City…” (1978) is complemented by a similarly disjunctive, free-ranging text set in the Middle Ages and referencing multiple sites such as Cairo’s City of the Dead; Bloomfield, Indiana; Sarajevo; and Reykjavik. During the early 1980s, Aycock’s interest in machinery and mechanics—cross-bred with imaginary science of the Ghostbusters variety—intensified, resulting in a series of works that are represented in the Grey’s installation by drawings and maquettes. These include The Miraculating Machine in the Garden (1980), described by Fineberg as “a romantic scientific apparatus, like something from an old Frankenstein movie, seemingly capable of harnessing awesome natural forces.” Language and architecture have informed Aycock’s drawings in ever-more imaginative ways. At the Parrish Art Museum, The Rosetta Stone City Intersected by the Celestial Alphabet (1985) and The Garden of Scripts (Villandry) (1986) show how Aycock uses as architectural elements Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mesopotamian cuneiform, Native American pictographs, and Chinese and Sanskrit characters. The artist is also inspired by board games. The Celestial City Game (1988) is based on the heavenly city of Jerusalem, with snakes and ladders in a central checkerboard, surrounded by a city plan derived from an 8th-century illuminated manuscript. Both Aycock‘s built projects and her drawings achieved new complexity in the 1990s with the advent of computer graphics programs, which enable her to view forms from multiple perspectives, create mathematically perfect curves, generate precise construction drawings, reduce and enlarge at will, scale a piece perfectly in a site, and imagine points of view that are extraordinarily accurate. Rock, Paper, Scissors (India ’07), from 2012, was inspired by a visit to the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. With a computer program, Aycock redrew the five-story structure repeatedly to produce a high tower of many stories, tapering to a peak. At its base a turbine or blade machine radiates from a central axle, while the structure is encircled by red and white curvilinear forms.
In another recent drawing in the exhibition, From the Series Entitled “Sum Over Histories”: Timescape 5 Over the Landscape of the Pacific Ocean (2011), Aycock appropriates a topographic rendering of the Pacific Ocean floor from an old exhibition catalogue, scans it into a computer, and stretches it out horizontally, distorting it into a flat sheet floating in space.She then uses a computer program to superimpose on the map whirlwinds and spinning tops, ribbonlike pathways doubling back and wrapping around themselves, helices and circular blades, and other complex forms. According to Fineberg, “This is the crux of Aycock’s work: peregrinations through unpredictable networks of meaning, in many directions at once, into the breathtaking landscape of a place you’ve never been before.”
Alice Aycock was born in 1946 and educated at Douglass College and Hunter College. She emerged in New York in the 1970s, and her approach to art exemplified the ways artists radically redefined the trajectory of art during that decade. Her work was exhibited widely during the ’70s and ’80s, from the Museum of Modern Art to Documenta. Aycock has also had a profound effect on succeeding generations of artists, both through the example of her new work and through her teaching at various institutions, chief among them the School of Visual Arts in New York, where she has taught since 1991. She also served on the Public Design Commission of the City of New York from 2003 to 2012, and is currently visiting artist at Mount Royal School of Art at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD.
Aycock’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Parrish Art Museum, among many others. She has exhibited at galleries and museums throughout the world, and her permanent public art works are on display at locations throughout the United States, among them New York, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Sacramento, Tampa, Dallas, Kansas City, Ann Arbor, and at the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, NY.