A-Z Comfort Unit with Special Comfort Features by Dave Stewart is an installation comprising a bed and four cabinets. Each unit is mounted on small wheels and consists of a steel armature coated in grey paint and multiple sheets of laminated plywood. The bed is surrounded on all four sides by a wooden screen, with lowered central sections on its two longer sides serving as entrances to the bed area. Inside this structure are a single mattress, four pillows and a duvet, and these, as well as the unit’s interior walls, have red, velvety surfaces. When viewers approach the bed, music plays from speakers hidden underneath the duvet. Each of the four cabinets features a small shelf at the bottom, near to the wheels, and a cuboid box at its top. The boxes have doors that contain small glazed windows and they open downwards by means of a hinge on their lower edge. Three of the cabinets are intended for specified functions – dining, cosmetics and hygiene, and office work – while the third is designed to be customised by the owner of the work. The cabinets with pre-designated functions come with multiple accessories, including stationery for the office cabinet, cups for the dining area and cotton pads for the cosmetics unit. At the rear-centre of each box is a small monitor displaying a video that is visible through a rectangular hole in the wood. The videos are played by DVD players that are placed on the cabinets’ low shelves. The artist has stipulated that the work must be displayed against light green walls of a specific shade.
This installation was made during 1994 and 1995 by the American artist Andrea Zittel, when she was living and working in Brooklyn, New York. It is one of three very similar works that were all created during these two years and share the title A-Z Comfort Unit (see also A-Z Comfort Unit 1994, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati). In each case the cabinets’ internal arrangements and the bed’s interior colour differ. This work owned by Tate is unique among the three because the videos, the colour of the walls and the bed’s red hue were all selected by the British musician Dave Stewart.
The letters ‘A-Z’ are featured in the titles of many works that Zittel has made since 1991 (see also A-Z 1994 Living Unit 1994, private collection). In 2005 the artist explained that it can be read as either ‘A Z’ or ‘A to Z’ and claimed that, as well as the two letters forming her initials, the pair of letters ‘is also a very standard business name … you see it and you know immediately that it is a business’ (Beatriz Colomina, Mark Wigley and Andrea Zittel, ‘A-Z Drive-Thru Conversation’, in Contemporary Arts Museum Houston 2005, p.51). Zittel also explained in 2005 that her ‘comfort units’ are designed to allow the user to ‘do everything you have to do without ever leaving the comfort and security of your own bed’ (Colomina, Wigley and Zittel 2005, p.52). This is possible because the cabinets and their lowered doors fit neatly through the gaps in the bed’s sides.
This is one of many works by Zittel that are designed to be customised by others (see also A-Z Body Processing Unit 1993, private collection). As well as Stewart’s contributions, Zittel has also insisted that the accessories inside the cabinets are not integral components and should be replaced at the owner’s discretion (see Andrea Zittel, letter to Tate curator Catherine Kinley, 27 September 1996, unpaginated, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Andrea Zittel, PC4.2.1). Discussing her emphasis on customisation in 2011, Zittel stated that she wanted to invite reflection regarding ‘what people valued the most when they bought a work of art. Was it a unique work totally customized to reflect their own tastes and creative abilities – or was it the hand of the artist?’ (Andrea Zittel and Richard Julin, ‘Four’, in Andrea Zittel: Lay of My Land, exhibition catalogue, Magasin 3 Stockholm Kunsthall, Stockholm 2011, pp.99–100).
Since the early 1990s Zittel’s works have often evoked design practices. However, while they are generally useful in some way, incorporating an implied social or domestic function, the critic Jan Avgikos has argued that ‘Nothing about Zittel’s art suggests itself as a remedy for what ails the masses. Rather, in “A-Z’s” advocacy of an idealized lifestyle, the configuration constantly generated is that of the individual … All “A-Z” lifestyle products and services are highly personalized. As such, they join ranks with the worldwide flood of personal shoppers, and personal computers, and personal-size tissues and personal everything!’ (Jan Avgikos, ‘One or Two Things I Know About Her’, Deichtorhallen Hamburg 2000, pp.15–17). The individualised character of Zittel’s practice is expressed in this work by the situation that it suggests in which one might rarely leave the personal space of one’s own bed.
New Art 6: Andrea Zittel, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati 1996, unpaginated.
Andrea Zittel: Personal Programs, exhibition catalogue, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Hamburg 2000.
Andrea Zittel: Critical Space, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston 2005, pp.52, 134, reproduced pp.134–5.
Supported by Christie’s.