Inside an Art-House Theme Park
Ryan Trecartin, Lizzie Fitch, and Fondazione Prada break new ground in the hinterlands of Athens, Ohio.
Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch slip-n-slid their way to art world acclaim in the 2010s, powered by dueling, highly visual forces: one the RISD grads’ wabi-sabi video art techniques, the other their subsequent cult stardom. If celebrities were adjacent to Fitch/Trecartin-land, they would eventually be absorbed by it; a 2016 commission saw Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid as Snapchat-inspired tableaux vivants, transposed with cutesy yet deranged animal masks. But the latest Fitch/Trecartin showcase disrupts this delicate equation. Having long explored the bounds between the real and imagined, Fitch and Trecartin recently severed their close connection to the postmodern milieu, decamping from L.A. to a 32-acre live-work studio in Athens, Ohio.
Both Ohio natives, Fitch and Trecartin often create hermetic spaces to channel their fluid, Internet-bred visions. (As one of their final pre-move projects, they overtook an entire Masonic temple.) The studio, cosigned by Fondazione Prada, the luxury brand’s eponymous Milan art space, is a carte blanche for those visions to flourish. “For so many years we built things that were temporary,” says Trecartin. “By moving here, we wanted to create something that had a [long] life. The Foundation was very encouraging of [that].” As reflected in their inaugural exhibit, “Whether Line,” made of works created onsite in Athens, the campus offers ample space for the artists’ dystopian whims. In said works, artist pals roam the woods, filing under a transplanted TSA-grade metal detector or scaling watchtower-like structures. “We tried to use forms that have recreational use in some contexts or can be oppressive or jail-like; maybe [the metal detector] is for theme park guests, or maybe it’s for surveillance,” Trecartin explains.
But as the duo discovered, putting theory into practice is more complicated on a construction site. “We faced a lot of building challenges that we did not anticipate,” says Fitch. “Much of the land here is on top of clay,” adds Trecartin. “It slips really easily when you disturb it, so there was a lot of engineering to figure out, which we had never dealt with before.”
The property’s crowning jewel is its Trecartin-designed mega-pool. “We [flew in] someone from Las Vegas who does those weird fancy pools at hotels, and we also employed workers from the Athens area for the actual construction,” says Trecartin. A monument to resort-style grandeur and post-ironic whimsy, the pool is an emblem of Trecartin and Fitch’s long term ambitions. Busy shooting footage for an exhibition in Milan slated for this fall, they have work to do yet before declaring the property Miuccia-ready (the Prada co-chief executive and lead creative director has yet to visit, but she plans to, say Trecartin and Fitch). “Our goal is to slowly continue to add to this property and almost develop it out as a kind of amusement park,” says Trecartin. “The first phase is about 80% complete,” adds Fitch. “We would like to build it out a lot more and expand its form, but [we need] to first get it to a functional point.”
Unlike lazy rivers and treehouses, Internet access has been a surprisingly low priority in the Fitch/Trecartin infrastructure plan. “We didn’t have [Internet] for the first year that we lived here,” says Trecartin, perhaps the foremost artist of his WiFi-dependent generation. “It was really weird at first, but I kind of loved it. Now it’s like I can’t even bring myself to use Instagram anymore. It was just so much fun not using it.” Without the shackles of social media, these art pioneers are finally free to choose their own adventure.