Alice Aycock creates art that explores the relationships between fantasy, science, imagination, and experience. Although she is known primarily for her large-scale installations and monumental outdoor sculptures, drawing hasalways played an essential role in her practice. The works on view here—which include drawings for real and imaginary architectural projects, maquettes, and photo-documentation— demonstrate the breadth of her artistic vision. The first half of a retrospective of her drawings, this presentation features works from 1971 to 1984. Some Stories Are Worth Repeating continues at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York.
Aycock believes in art as a mode of shared inquiry. Having moved to New York in 1968 to pursue her Master’s degree at Hunter College, she quickly became a vital member of the 1970s downtown art scene. In her early sculptures—spare, wooden constructions that often prompted viewers to enter underground tunnels or mount precarious ladders—she reacted in part to Minimalism and Land Art, and drew on her experiences studying with artists such as Tony Smith and Robert Morris. By inviting audiences to interact with spaces that elicit both fear and exhilaration, Aycock engages them as collaborators in the creation of meaning. In so doing, she proposes subjective physical experience as an important source of knowledge.
Later in the 1970s, Aycock began working in a more narrative mode, adding rich, fantastical stories to her constructions. Writing, like drawing, has always been a crucial component of her process. While earlier works are paired with more straightforward instructions, many of the later projects are accompanied by statements that introduce viewers to elaborate casts of characters whose storylines animate the artist’s drawn worlds. In these cases, observers are enlisted as conceptual, rather than physical, participants in exploring potential meanings. Her work and teaching—at Yale University School of Art and School of Visual Arts in New York—has inspired succeeding generations of both artists and architects.
For Aycock, drawing is a way of thinking. She employs a deadpan technical drawing style in deliberate counterpoint to her elaborate, fantastic schemes, which celebrate the inter-sections of art, technology, science, and magical thinking. In this blurring of real and fictional, she encourages audiences to transgress predetermined conceptions and to venture, as she puts it, “farther into another place.”
Visitors responded enthusiastically to Aycock’s 1977 Documenta contribution, but she was dismayed by their playground sense of abandon in climbing all over the work. That same year, she was invited to create a temporary work at Artpark, a summer art-installation site in Lewiston, New York, that was established in 1974. The imposing structure Aycock built for Artpark, Project Entitled “The Beginnings of a Complex…” Excerpt Shaft #4/Five Walls, 28 feet high by 8 feet wide and situated on an artificial hill, was an extension of her Documenta piece. Viewers entered through a portal in the ground that led them to high walls to be scaled by ladders. Those who climbed were further challenged by gaps between the walls that could be bridged only at a perilous height. The artist wrote that, as in the Documenta project, the “structure constitutes a set of directions for a performance, that is, structure is structuring.” Excerpt Shaft #4/Five Walls is accompanied by Aycock’s narrative:
My grandmother lives in a little town in the South. The ground floor of her house is divided in half. Each side is exactly like the other side, room for room. A hallway runs down the center of the house. Granny always kept the door to the half in which she didn’t live locked. At the back of the hall are stairs to the second floor bedrooms. The second floor is like any floor in a regular house. There are three bedrooms and a store room. The ceilings are very low and it is very hot up there in the summer. At one end of the hall is a door to a room that my grandmother always keeps locked. She said that it was my father’s bedroom. She said that when he was a boy she gave him that room to do whatever he wanted – that it was his place and she wouldn’t go in it. When he grew up and we nt away to school she went into the room, fixed it up and locked it. Several mornings, as I was going down the steps, granny would be coming out of that room and I would catch a glimpse into it. It was always very light.