Pandit Pran Nath La Monte Young Marian Zazeela Jung Hee Choi Charles Curtis Terry Jennings Angus Maclise Richard Maxfield Just Alap Raga Ensemble The Theatre of Eternal Music Kirana Center Teaching Program

© Jung Hee Choi, 2000

In Memoriam

Marian Zazeela

(1940 - 2024)

MELA is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Marian Zazeela on March 28. She died peacefully in her sleep on Thursday night due to natural causes at her home in New York, where she had been residing since 1963.

Marian Zazeela is a seminal figure in the New York avant-garde and Minimalist movements, known for her pioneering light work and abstract calligraphic drawings. Over the course of more than six decades, Zazeela has expressed her distinctive iconographic vision across various media, culminating in captivating and transformative light environments. Zazeela's oeuvre played a significant role in the development of the Intermedia Theatre and Environment genre, by creating the visual counterparts for The Theatre of Eternal Music and Dream House Sound and Light Environment with her lifelong collaborator, composer La Monte Young.

During her last two years at Bennington College in 1959-60, studying under artists Paul Feeley, Eugene Goossen and Tony Smith, Zazeela began to produce her formative and seminal abstract calligraphic strokes in paintings, prints and graphics. Zazeela's first show at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in 1960 exhibited large canvases with the calligraphic strokes suspended in expansive static color fields that became foundational to her practice.

In 1961, Zazeela became a prominent member of the New York Downtown art scene in a circle including Irving Rosenthal, Piero Heliczer, Angus MacLise, Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones. During 1961 and 1962, she collaborated with the legendary New York underground filmmaker, Jack Smith, was featured in his historic photographic work, The Beautiful Book, and appeared in the final segments of his infamous masterpiece, Flaming Creatures (1963).

In 1962, Zazeela began her long-term collaboration with Young, creating all the graphic and visual materials for his concerts and performing as a vocalist in his ensembles. Zazeela's light work evolved through the stages of light projection and lightboxes within a theatrical or performance context to complement Young's music. Gradually, Zazeela developed her singular light works on a sculptural and environmental scale, which directly grew out of her drawings and the themes she explored during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her work in light has taken the direction of performance in the slide projection series, Ornamental Lightyears Tracery (1965- c. 1977; revived 1992), sculpture in the series Still Light (1985) and neon pieces, Dream House Variations (1989), and environmental installation in Dusk/Dawn Adaptation (1967-70), Magenta Day / Magenta Night (1989) and the various realizations of her own genre, Light.

Expanding the traditional concepts of painting and sculpture while incorporating elements of both disciplines, she developed an innovative visual language in the medium of light by combining colored light mixtures with sculptural forms to create seemingly three-dimensional colored shadows in radiant vibrational fields. Light and scale are manipulated in such a way that the colored shadows, in their apparent corporeality, become indistinguishable from the sculptural forms, enveloping the viewer in the continual interplay of reality and illusion.

Following and developing on her work as a vocalist with Young and The Theatre of Eternal Music, Zazeela became a disciple of the great Indian master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath in 1970 and undertook the study of the Kirana style of Indian classical music. She accompanied Pandit Pran Nath in hundreds of concerts throughout the world.

Under a commission from the Dia Art Foundation (1979-85), Zazeela and Young collaborated in a 6-year continuous Dream House presentation set in the 6-story Harrison Street building in New York City, featuring multiple interrelated sound and light environments, exhibitions, performances, research and listening facilities, and archives. Arts Magazine described the centerpiece of this installation: "There is a retreat to reverie as if one were staring up into the summer night sky. The Magenta Lights is experienced as a meteorological or astronomical event, a changing color display above one's head, like an art equivalent of the Northern Lights." And Artforum wrote: "Zazeela transforms material into pure and intense color sensations, and makes a perceptual encounter a spiritual experience. The Magenta Lights is an environmental piece in every sense of the word. What Zazeela has represented is the subtle relationship between precision and spirituality."

Zazeela's one-year sound and light environment collaboration with Young, The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base) in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119 / Time Light Symmetry (Dia Art Foundation, 22nd Street, NYC 1989-90) was acclaimed by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann as "some of the strangest and most forward-looking art New York has to offer." Her 1990 Donguy Gallery, Paris exhibition of light works, purchased by the French Cultural Ministry National Foundation of Contemporary Art (FNAC) for their permanent collection, was exhibited in 1999 on the entire top floor of the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art, and in 2004-2005 at the Pompidou Centre in the exhibition Sons et Lumières. Sound and Light: La Monte Young / Marian Zazeela, published by Bucknell University Press in 1996, provides an in-depth collection of primary source materials on her work.

At the invitation of the French government for La Beauté exhibition celebrating the Year 2000, Young and Zazeela created a four-month Dream House in St. Joseph Chapel in Avignon. The installation featured the continuous DVD projection of the 1987 six-hour 24-minute performance of their collaborative masterwork, The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights, in a site-specific light environment created by Zazeela. The art center Kunst im Regenbogenstadl, Polling, Bavaria, presented a comprehensive solo exhibition of Zazeela’s drawings from May through October 2000, accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog including essays, photographs, documentation and reproductions of 71 works. From May through October 2001, Kunst im Regenbogenstadl initiated a long-term light installation designed by Zazeela, featuring The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights DVD projection, two new sculptures from her Still Light series, an installation of Magenta Day / Magenta Night and her neon work, Dream House Variation III. The installation has continued through the present with the inclusion of a new video projection work, S symmetry V.1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals , based on her Word Portraits series, as well as the video installation of the March 21, 2009 concert from the Guggenheim Dream House of The Just Alap Raga Ensemble performing Young's Raga Sundara in Zazeela's Imagic Light II. In 2010, in celebration of the 1000-year anniversary of the village of Polling, a large new entrance gallery space was added in Regenbogenstadl featuring two symmetrically placed pairs of Zazeela's signature mobiles in a configuration of The Magenta Lights with a sound environment of The Opening Chord from The Well-Tuned Piano.

In 2012, Zazeela created Dream House installations and performed with The Just Alap Raga Ensemble in five Pandit Pran Nath Memorial Tribute Tour concerts in Berlin, Karlsruhe and Polling, Bavaria, with live video streaming of the Berlin concerts to the Angelika Festival, Bologna and Fondazione Mudima, Milan.

The Village Voice listed the MELA Church Street Dream House as the Best Art Installation in New York 2014, "A charge for the mind as much as for the eye and ear, the Dream House feels like a gift to our beleaguered city, where headspace is the most precious real estate of all."

In 2015, the Dia Art Foundation acquired a unique version of the La Monte Young  Marian Zazeela  Jung Hee Choi Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, which was open to the general public from June 13, 2015 to October 24, 2015. This site-specific installation featured five light works by Zazeela; Neon, Dream House Variation IV (2009); Sculpture, Ruine Window 1992 II (2015) from Still Light; Sculpture, Open Rectangle II (2015) from Still Light; Installation, Imagic Light III (2015) from Light; Environment, Magenta Day / Magenta Night 545 West 22nd Street Skylights and Window (2015). The Village Voice wrote about her mesmerizing light works, "Zazeela's works play light, shadow, and color — the elements essential to form and its perception — off of one another. I spent a great deal of time looking in particular at Imagic Light III (2015), two thin curls of white aluminum suspended from the ceiling. Illuminated by two theatrical lights, one red and the other blue, the curls take on those hues while at the same time creating colored shadows on the wall behind them. Up close, the piece's quiet dazzle is a meditation on light and color. Seen from a distance, however, the shadows appear to take on a material presence, and the eye has to flex itself a little differently to distinguish the artwork from its cast silhouettes." (August 25, 2015)

The Zazeela and Choi simultaneous light environments with Young and Choi simultaneous sound environments have been presented at MELA Dream House in New York from November 2018–present; Galerie l'elac, Lausanne, Switzerland, November 25, 2021–January 28, 2022; and Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Germany, April 8–August 8, 2022.

Zazeela continued to perform as a vocalist until 2019 in The Just Alap Raga Ensemble and The Sundara All Star Band, which she founded with Young and Jung Hee Choi. In 2021 Zazeela was honored as one of the 14 artists to receive the prestigious Anonymous Was A Woman Award in recognition of her significant contributions. Zazeela's rarely-seen master works on paper were featured at Dia:Beacon from 2019 to 2022, and currently Zazeela's graphic work and abstract calligraphic drawings, spanning from 1962 through 2003, are on view at Artists Space in New York until May 11, 2024.
With all good vibrations in sound and light,

Jung Hee Choi
Director, MELA Foundation