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Paul McCarthy, “Painter” (1996)
Paul McCarthy, “Painter” (1996). Video, colour, sound 50:01 mins© Paul McCarthy

This exhibition takes you inside the studios of your favourite artists

A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 is the new exhibition dedicated to investigating the spaces where great works of art have been made

In whatever form they take – whether it be a repurposed kitchen table cleared of detritus or an uptown Manhannattan loft overflowing with the high life (and low life) of New York’s cultural milieu – the artists’ studio is the place where acts of creation take place and works of art are born. They hold a fascination over us as receptacles of greatness, perhaps impregnated with secret knowledge as to how art is made, offering clues as to the intimate habits or practices of artists. 

A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 at Whitechapel Gallery is a new exhibition allowing us a privileged glimpse into these hallowed spaces. “I think [artists’ studios] are intriguing to us as this is where the thinking, the dreaming, and the making takes place and to be invited to witness these processes is a pleasure and a privilege,” curator Candy Stobbs tells us. The exhibition allows us a deeper understanding of how studios inform and are formed by the artists who inhabit them. “As we were researching our take on the history of a hundred years of artists' studios we were guided by two prevailing themes: the public studio and the private studio. And within these we noticed further themes and connections between artists including how artists stage themselves in the studio, daily life in the studio, and the secret life of the studio when the artist has left,” Stobbs elaborates. “We explore ways in which artists have cannibalised elements of their studio… such as Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract painting made on the floor of her studio which reveals the imprint of the planks below.”

Alongside various evocations and depictions of studio spaces in painting, sculpture, installation, and film, the exhibition also attempts to recreate the spirit of particular artists’ studios in more visceral ways. “We have tried to evoke a sense of iconic studio spaces by creating what we are calling ‘studio corners’, including Andy Warhol’s ‘Silver Studio’ in 1960s New York, filled with Stephen Shore’s black and white photographs of Warhol and his friends and collaborators alongside an excerpt of the famous 1966 performance of the Velvet Underground which was raided by the NYPD.” Stobbs continues: “Francis Bacon’s South Kensington studio was famously excavated and moved in its entirety to The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where Bacon was born. We have blown up a famous photograph by Perry Ogden of the paint-splattered walls and layers of detritus on the floor, along with artworks and archive objects to create a sense of the chaotic environment of his studio which he described as ‘highly-controlled chaos’ and in which he produced twentieth-century masterpieces.”

Gathering together more than 100 works by over 80 artists and collectives from across the globe, the exhibition also investigates the shifting ways in which collective studios manifest themselves in response to the unique circumstances in which they’re formed, and how this impacts on the processes of the artists, fostering a kind of reciprocal exchange. Stobbs explains: “We had always been interested in how groups of artists work collectively and establish a shared way of working from Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in the 1920s who created an evolving painted environment in their Sussex home Charleston, often inviting their artist friends to participate; or the members of the mainly female Arpilleras workshops in 1970s Chile who formed secret groups to make embroidered textiles describing political and social oppression under Pinochet’s regime.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of some of the works featured in the extensive exhibition. 

A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 is open at Whitechapel Gallery from February 24 until June 5 2022