Inside an old rag-salvaging factory in burgeoning SoHo—a dilapidated district in downtown Manhattan—in 1970, the gallery began.
It didn’t have a formal opening. It didn’t even have a name, other than its address: 112 Greene Street. But nearly every artist was welcome. And it was there that Alice Aycock was born.
“It was a stew pot for performance, sculpture, painting, dance,” the internationally acclaimed artist recalled last week during a telephone interview before hopping on a plane to Berlin. “And everyone went through there and did something. So we all met each other and influenced each other. The New York art world was very small and it’s not like it is now. We worked, in many ways, for each other and a small group of art critics. And I landed.”
In the year 1971, in the 112 Greene Street gallery space, Ms. Aycock spaced four industrial fans equidistant around a pile of sand, blowing into the center, and then took a picture of the scene. The photograph, “Sand/Fans,” was the first glimpse of a “vortex of energy” that is a theme in her work to this day, she said, as seen in “Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating,” an exhibition on view at two venues—the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill and the Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan—through July 14.
The two sites split the artist’s career in two, she said. The Grey Art Gallery houses the first half, 48 works from 1971 to 1984, and the Parrish focuses on 55 pieces from 1984 to the present. This is the first comprehensive exploration of the artist’s creative process, showing some of her works from visionary drawings to architectural production, according to information provided by the museum.
“Alice is an artist who thinks on paper, and it is a rare privilege to have the opportunity to see such a creative mind at work,” Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan wrote in an email last week. “There are many passages in the exhibition where a viewer can trace the trajectory from a conceptual drawing, to a maquette, to the finished monumental sculpture. At other times, we are invited into a theatrical realm of flights of innovation. What is most striking is Aycock’s rigorous formal acuity—her mastery of the craft of drawing with ink, pencil, watercolor and gouache, is absolutely captivating.”
Ms. Aycock begins with an idea, most often inspired by a particular place, real or imaginary, she said. Then she begins to draw.
The daughter of Jesse Aycock—an engineer who founded Aycock, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based specialty contracting service for mechanical construction—grew up surrounded by massive machines and at ease around overhead cranes and iron workers. That was her normal and the root of her love for large-scale art interwoven with science.
“I work, more or less, the way an architect does, putting in dimensions and trying to understand how I might build it, construct it,” she said. “Now, I’m working on the computer, but still trying to understand scale and understand how it might be constructed and how it references the site.”
Once complete, her drawing is passed off to engineers, built and installed in a commissioned location—be it “The Star Sifter: The Rotunda Project for Terminal One” in the John F. Kennedy International Airport or “East River Roundabout,” located at the East River Waterfront Park in Manhattan.
“There’s always a difference between the virtual space and the actual space, as is with lots of things,” she said of her drawings that go on to become three-dimensional works. “When designing virtually, you can control things. You prioritize your work. The transition, it’s always different. The world enters in a different way and it also changes over time. But it’s always exciting, actually. The experience of actually being present to something is always surprising and wonderful when it’s built.”
Last weekend in Berlin, Ms. Aycock premiered her newest creation, “Super Twister II,” an aluminum tornado standing approximately 8 feet high by 7 feet wide, that harkens back to the vortex she discovered in 112 Greene Street, when the art world was confined to one neighborhood and when she was just on the cusp of becoming the artist she is today.
In partnership with the Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan, the Parrish Art Museum is presenting “Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating,” an exhibition in two venues, through July 14. The artist will deliver an illustrated lecture on her work from 1971 to the present on Friday, May 17, at 6 p.m. in the Lichtenstein Theater at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, and author Robert Hobbs will discuss Ms. Aycock’s work on June 28. Tickets to all programs are $10, or free for students, children and members, and includes admission, which is $10, $8 for seniors or free for students with ID and children under 18. For more information, visit parrishart.org.