• Mar 07,2022
  • In Review
  • By Abundant Art

A Century of the Artist’s Studio – The Whitechapel Gallery Review

As a greenhouse of creativity, the artist’s ‘studio’ has always been regarded as a place veiled in mystery. Uncovering the ‘veil’ as such in various directions beyond our expectations, The Whitechapel Gallery presents its new special exhibition ‘A Century of the Artist’s Studio’ from 24 February to 5 June 2022.

Bringing together works from over 80 artists and collectives from various continents, including Africa, Australasia, South Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, the exhibition features modern icons such as Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, and Andy Warhol, in addition to contemporary figures such as Walead Beshty, Lisa Brice and Kerry James Marshall.

With 11 sections, this large-scale exhibition highlights various themes such as ‘performing the studio’, ‘the collective studio’, ‘the studio as installation’ and so forth, in order to present a riot of colours reflected in the artist’s studio as a prism. Through the exhibition, the artist’s studio becomes a workplace for genius artists, then transfers into a cage that encloses the mental agony and pain of creation, and even morphs into a stage and an artwork in itself. For example, behind the wall near the entrance which displays photos of Picasso posing in his studio, Nikhil Chopra’s la Perla Negra: Plaza de Armas stands in silence to greet visitors. This studio-like cage or a cage-like studio is made for the 2015 Havana Biennale. In this cage on the Plaza de Armas, Chopra painted what he saw through the bars on public view. Observing unfinished brushstrokes, messy surroundings such as wrinkled fabrics and paint boxes covered in dried paint, visitors are presented with a juxtaposition, or a contrast, between Picasso standing in an imposing manner with his finished masterpieces and an absent artist with only his unfinished paintings locked away in a cage.

The artist’s studio can also become a space to embrace wounds and tears. ‘The collective studio’ section introduces visitors to an arpilleras embroidery work produced by female artists’ workshops that took place illegally behind closed doors during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Domestic craft activities helped the women artists to document the injustices of the regime; some of them even used the very clothes of those who had been imprisoned or ‘disappeared’, as a gesture of mourning, protest and resistance.

The malleable concept of ‘studio’ also leaves physical traces. Several sections in the exhibition, such as ‘the secret life of the studio’, ‘the intimate studio’, and ‘a day in the life of the studio’, give visitors the opportunity to get a closer look at the studio as a physical space. By exploring Darren Almond’s The Remnants(Freud) and its depiction of the enlarged image of fabrics that were used in art creation, or Francis Bacon’s brushes and paint boxes solidified with dried paint, visitors are offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes art-making process. In these studio spaces indexed by the mess of making, one can imagine how artists sometimes scatter paints in a passionate manner like Jackson Pollock, or follow personal routines to serve as a creative ‘worker’ rather than an artist as indicated in Lisa Milroy’s A Day in the Studio, or even adhere to mechanic orders to spend and record time by adapting seemingly meaningless acts like Tehching Hsieh in his One Year Performance.

In addition to the artworks, the exhibition provides a series of ‘studio corners’ that recreate the actual environments where great art has been produced, allowing visitors to get a more realistic feel for the studio space. Most importantly, by juxtaposing modern icons with contemporary artists, the exhibition transcends 100 years of time and asks what has changed and what has remained in the concept of ‘studio’, or even ‘art’.

To explore more about the exhibition, please visit: https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/a-century-of-the-artists-studio-1920-2020/

Image Credit: Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Painter), 2008, Acrylic on PVC panel in artist’s frame, 73 x 62.9 cm. Collection of Charlotte and Herbert S. Wagner III. © Kerry James Marshall. Courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner London and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Steve Briggs. Image From The Whitechapel Gallery

Sun A Han is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from South Korea, she discovered her passion for art at the age of ten, by encountering Picasso’s masterpiece – “Guernica”. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Art Theory and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins. As a writer, she aspires to write about art that heals the soul, touches the heart, and gives voice to the oppressed.

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