“There were two things that excited me about the prospect of this exhibition,” says Iwona Blazwick, the outgoing director of the Whitechapel Gallery. “I wanted to reassert the importance of making and the importance of space.” A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 will show “how the notion of the studio—originally a north-facing atelier with a single easel that was almost exclusively the province of a white man—exploded in the 20th century,” Blazwick says.
The exhibition takes as its starting point two types of studio: public and private. The works in the downstairs gallery will examine how artists have used the studio as a factory, collective workspace, or stage. Colourful textiles from the Arpilleras workshops reveal how Chilean women found strength in a shared space to pool resources and engage with political issues, while Tracey Emin’s Naked Photos—Life Model Goes Mad (1996) documents a performance she gave in Stockholm, playing both artist and life model in a specially built studio, observed by visitors through peepholes.
It goes back to that great Virginia Woolf quote: ‘everybody needs a room of one’s own’Iwona Blazwick, Whitechapel Gallery director
Upstairs will be the private studio: a sanctuary and a site of experimentation that will include poignant images taken by the Czech photographer Josef Sudek of water droplets on the windows of his studio where he took refuge during the Nazi occupation of Prague.
In between these will be a gallery of works of empty studios, including Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s still life of an easel and blank canvas, and a film by Darren Almond in which everything is still except for the light and a ticking clock. There will also be a room dedicated to studio architecture, including Antony Gormley’s David Chipperfield-designed London space. All this, plus recreations of studio corners, among them Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory and Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau.
“It goes back to that great Virginia Woolf quote: ‘everybody needs a room of one’s own’,” Blazwick says. “It’s about making visible experimentation, failure, boredom—all of those factors that lie behind a finished artwork—and it’s a clarion call to city dwellers to protect our studios.”
• A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 24 February-5 June