The recently closed A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery was a fascinating dive into the transformative approaches by artists towards their sites of production. What was immediately clear was the incredibly broad cast of international artists represented.
Split up between two floors, it opened in part with photographs of artists like Frida Kahlo and Alberto Giacometti in their studios, posing for posterity with their artworks or in the act of creation. But a video of Bruce Naumann in performance quickly foreshadowed some of the stranger things to come.
There was a fantastic self-portrait by Kerry James Marshall, Carolee Schneemann’s brilliant carnal Eye Body photo series, and even a partial reconstruction of the fireplace at Charleston by Bloomsbury couple Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant next to some great Aboriginal pieces by John Mawurndjul and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. Upstairs, there was also a fantastic grouping of works by Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, his studio assistant David Dawson, and Francis Bacon.
The beauty of this exhibition was its recreated studio corners, offering a glimpse of Henri Matisse’s Villa Le Reve in Vence, Maud Lewis’ painted shack in Nova Scotia, the sculpture studios of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Kim Lim, and even public installations by Nikhil Chopra, Kurt Schwitters, and Walead Beahty. Sam Tsieh’s One Year Performance captivated me a great deal.
But what this show constantly reminded us was the movability of the artist’s studio – the studio as a state of mind, not just physical space. Naumann’s performances demonstrated this quite well as did Andy Warhol’s so-called Silver Factory, which attracted many interesting New York personalities to assist with his silkscreens. In this respect, the most bizarre revelation was the (slightly weak) concluding section titled ‘Eating the Studio’ which looked at the studio as artistic material itself, a poignant counterpart to Paul Winstanley’s paintings depicting empty, whitewashed art school studios in an earlier section.
A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 ran from 24 February – 5 June 2022 at Whitechapel Gallery, London, https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/