Art and Architecture, Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News

The Studio Reader and the 2014 Whitney Biennial


In 2010, we published The Studio Reader, an anthology of writings on artists and their spaces—metaphorical and literal, spatial and conceptual—helmed by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner. We were delighted to learn Grabner had been selected as one of three curators for the 2014 Whitney Biennial (and just as equally pleased to see her here in the company of Anthony Elms, editor of WhiteWalls, a publisher of writings by artists distributed by the University of Chicago Press; we’re certain their companion co-curator Stuart Comer is of sound mind, but we can’t directly link him to our operation with any sort of understated eloquence). Now that the list of Biennial artists has been released, a bit more reason to celebrate the book: contributors Shana Lutker and David Robbins will both be included in the show, which opens on March 1, 2014.

In the meantime, The Studio Reader remains a meaningful foray into questions both sobering and dynamic about the role of the studio in the lives and work of contemporary artists:  What does it mean to be in the studio? What is the space of the studio in the artist’s practice? How do studios help artists envision their agency and, beyond that, their own lives? As Grabner writes in the book’s Introduction:

Mapping the trajectory of the modern studio is equivalent to mapping artistic style, propriety, and invention. [As mentioned above] Guernica, that twentieth-century political masterwork, sprang from perhaps the same attic studio as Porbus’s dedicated, if comparatively lifeless, renderings of nature in the seventeenth century. The willed trope of the individual artist’s studio, commencing from Enlightenment values of self-determination, shifting its emphasis from reasoned humanism to inspired self-expression in the Romantic era, and becoming the critical measure of authenticity for the Abstract Expressionists, persists today both in popular culture and in artistic practice. While many cultural forums and related sites opened their doors, rejecting creative solitude, these venues—the social studios, salons, workshops, and factories—did not fully disperse authorship and the notion of a privileged site of production. The creative master remained intact, as did the studio, despite being dislocated or inhabited by others. The postmodern studio, however, is analogous to bricolage, ad hoc and fractured, no longer the solo site of artistic enterprise; this shape-shifting studio “affirms these recognitions and helps resist the objectification of multiple experiences into narrative systems which, through patterns of power/knowledge, too often organize difference into hierarchy, or essentialize its energies into a cultural formula inflected by linearity.” As Certeau elaborates:

Everyone goes back to work at the place he has been given, in the office or the workshop. The incarceration-vacation is over. For the beautiful abstraction of the prison are substituted the compromises, opacities and dependencies of a workplace. Hand-to-hand combat begins again with a reality that dislodges the spectator without rails or windowpanes. There comes to an end the Robinson Crusoe adventure of the traveling noble soul that could believe itself intact because it was surrounded by glass and iron.

Perhaps equally pertinent to a contemporary examination of the studio and its potential is Certeau’s analysis of “places” and “spaces.” The former he defines as distinct locations whose constituent elements are “beside” one another, stabilized in accordance with rules and laws that govern what is “proper.” A space, on the other hand, “exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables.” Certeau employs a simple analogy in which space is “like a word when it is spoken, that is, when it is caught in the ambiguities of an actualization, transformed into a term dependent on different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts.

“The romance of the studio topos is always promising to return,” writes Caroline Jones in her influential text Machine in the Studio. The present volume examines that assertion, identifying contemporary examples of the inherited individual-studio model, while also upending it with arguments, theories, and observations contributed by working artists, art historians, and critics. Appraising the studio as an instrument, as a state of mind, as a site of attention, but primarily as “a practiced place,” this anthology atomizes and reconfigures the idea of a conventional (proper) studio.

To read more about The Studio Reader, click here.