Explore 100 years of the artist’s studio


Studios are fascinating and sometimes secret spaces where artists work, whether it’s a kitchen table, an abandoned house or a disused warehouse. Much more than a workspace, they are places of experimentation, reflection and collaboration, and where magic can work for the artist. They offer a snapshot of the creative spirit at work and the inspirations of its owner.

These creative crucibles are the subject of a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London. A century of artist’s studio: 1920 to 2020 shows how modern artists have used their studios in many different ways. Through more than 100 works, the artist’s studio is expressed as a refuge, prison, collective work space, laboratory, factory, exhibition space and as a place of protest, still life and performance.

The multimedia and culturally diverse exhibition opens with Louise Bourgeois ‘room’ sculpture (Cell IX), which considers the influence of the studio on the mind, imagining it as a prison and a portal. There are photographs of great modern icons such as Pablo Picasso and Lucian Freud in their studios, a photographic installation from Francis Bacon’s 1960s studio on Reece Mews in London, which reveals a world of color, sadness and disorder that sparkles with creative energy, and Marshall’s Kerry James Untitled painting (painter)which depicts a black artist holding an oversized painter’s palette.

Featuring works by Egon Schiele, Bacon, Tracey Emin and Barbara Hepworth, the exhibition puts the artist’s studio center stage and designs the studio in two ways, a “public” studio, where the artist presents his personality, and a “private” studio. , between the model and the artist. ‘[The show] is a celebration of artistic design and production spaces and considers how these have changed and evolved over the past century,” explains Deputy Curator Inês Costa.

Louise Bourgeois, Cell IX, 1999. Courtesy D. Daskalopoulos Collection © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021

The exhibit features embroidery from the 1970s by unknown Chilean female artists. Named Arpilleras, after the burlap they are made of, they were produced in workshops that took place illegally behind closed doors during the Pinochet dictatorship. Another work that shows the studio as a site of political resistance is Nikhil Chopra’s 2015 installation La Perla Negra: Plaza de Armas, formed of a metal cage with a roof housing canvases and props. Chopra lived and painted in the cage for 60 hours in Havana’s Plaza de Armas dressed as a 1950s American Woman of Color.

There’s a reconstructed section of Kurt Schwitter’s 1930s Merzbau – a room-sized sculptural construction with wooden and plaster stalactites that the artist built in his Hannover home; the gothic self-portraits of photographer Francesca Woodman who used abandoned houses as a studio; and a film reel from Andy Warhol’s silver-leaf-covered New York studio The Factory, which was the mecca of the hip crowd in 1960s New York and probably the most famous of its kind. This addition particularly underscores the importance of artists’ studios in keeping creative scenes alive in cities where rents continue to rise.

A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920 to 2020 until 5 June 2022 at Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 7QX

Francesca Woodman, A Woman; a mirror; A woman is a mirror for a man, Providence, Rhode Island 1975-78. Courtesy of the Woodman Family Foundation and Victoria Miro © Woodman Family Foundation/DACS, London 2021

Paul McCarthy, Painter, 1996. © Paul McCarthy

Nikhil Chopra, La Perla Negra: Place d’Armes 2015. 60 hours (performance installation at the 12th Biennial of La Habana, Cuba).
Courtesy of Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. Photography by Stephen White & Co

William Kentridge, Drawing lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School), 2010. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Galleria Lia Rumma and Goodman Gallery © William Kentridge

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