Marian Zazeela, Artist Behind Dizzying Drawings and Transcendent Light Shows, Dies at 83 - Living Strong Television Network
Marian Zazeela, Artist Behind Dizzying Drawings and Transcendent Light Shows, Dies at 83

Marian Zazeela, an artist whose abstract drawings and light installations envisioned dream states, died at her home in New York at 83 on Thursday. The MELA Foundation, an organization she cofounded with her partner, the artist La Monte Young, announced her passing on Friday, saying she died of natural causes while sleeping.

Zazeela produced work that did not fit neatly within the confines of any movement, even as it flirted with the aesthetics of Minimalism. By her own admission, she produced “borderline art,” a term she favorited for work that “‘borders’ and challenges the conventional distinction between decorative and fine art by using decorative elements in the fine art tradition,” as she once put it.

She is best-known for Dream House, a sound and light installation conceived in collaboration with Young. First mounted in 1969 and since staged in a variety of forms, the installation features drone music by Young and Light, an installation by Zazeela whose illumination, typically in a single shade of magenta, colors the entire space.

The version of Dream House that is now open for visitation on Church Street in Lower Manhattan is beloved by the general public, with visitors regularly venturing there to recline in the installation for extended periods of time. “It’s a simple concept,” M. H. Miller remarked in a 2020 T: The New York Times Style Magazine profile of Young, “and yet this harmony between sound and light was one of the earliest cohabitations of contemporary music and art.”

Working solo, Zazeela produced drawings composed of intricate calligraphic forms that are by turns hypnotic and dizzying. They are currently the subject of an exhibition at Artists Space in New York that has earned acclaim from critics. In Art in America, Andy Battaglia wrote of the show, “drawings of the kind in ‘Dream Lines’ tell the story of an artist who awakens different states of dreaming on her own.”

Marian Zazeela was born in New York in 1940. She attended Bennington College, where she studied art under artists such as the sculptor Tony Smith, and graduated in 1960. The year afterward, she immersed herself in the Downtown New York art scene, ultimately linking up with figures such as the filmmaker Jack Smith and even making an appearance in his most famous work, Flaming Creatures (1963). That same year, she married Young, with whom she had begun collaborating in 1962.

Jung Hee Choi, La Monte Young, and Marian Zazeela.

Her abstract drawings of this era sometimes contort words and text to form eye-popping patterns. But it is virtually possible to discern meaning from these forms, which resemble cursive pushed to its illegible limits.

As with Young’s oeuvre, Zazeela’s output would come to traverse multiple fields. While she was making her abstract drawings, she also served as a vocalist for Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music group. Meanwhile, she also made light shows, which she said were intentionally cross-disciplinary in nature. “My work in light expands traditional concepts of painting and sculpture, while involving elements of each discipline,” she once wrote.

During the ’70s, she studied under Pandit Pran Nath, an Indian musician who specialized in the Kirana gharana style of singing and performed together with Zazeela and Young many times over the years.

Although Zazeela and Young’s collaborative work has gained recognition, it was not until recently that her work produced solo had been given prominent showcases. Dia:Beacon staged a solo show of her work in 2019; the foundation that runs that New York museum today owns a 2015 version of Dream House that is credited to Zazeela, Young, and Jung Hee Choi, the executive director of the MELA Foundation.

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