On ViewInstitute of Contemporary Art
December 1, 2017 – February 26, 2018
“What would it be like to live without any source of imposed time? [. . .] How would your body react to such total freedom?”
This inquiry is the premise for Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Time Trials project, an experiment in living without clocks, natural light, or any other temporal cues. Documented in a series of panels titled Free Running Rhythms and Patterns Version II (2000), Zittel feels her way through a time-free week of tasks ranging from the ordinary (coffee drinking) to the creative (gouaching), arriving retrospectively at a bespoke system of color-coordinated tasks and time-stamped photos indexed to the moments in which they were shot. A speculative exercise in radical self-determination, Rhythms and Patterns methodically categorizes the artist’s daily regimen, highlighting the relationship between arbitrary temporal constructs and basic human behaviors. But almost by accident, the project posits an open-ended model (or metaphor) which could apply to nearly any studio practice: how does an artist respond to the near complete absence of rules in the creative endeavor?
Different artists will, of course, arrive at different solutions. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami’s The Everywhere Studio attempts to offer an overview of the studio from the 1960s to the present through the work of over 50 artists (Zittel’s piece is a springboard for the second half of the show). Inaugurating the museum’s new home, the subject matter is a fairly bold opening choice for curators Alex Gartenfeld, Gean Moreno, and Stephanie Seidel given the supposed resistance of the contemporary artist’s studio to the stasis a historical treatment requires. Many of the artists are still living, and this often-interdisciplinary coterie seems determined to stretch the limits of their chosen media in every direction. It’s an adventure to behold, but not one without dips to complement its heights.
The works surveyed range from conventional depictions of the artist-at-work to products of more audacious hybrid studio practices. Jay DeFeo’s photos capture her highly sculptural paintings in various stages of completion, providing a straightforward view into the artist’s process. Likewise, Cheryl Donegan’s video Rehearsal (1994) captures Donegan in scenes of painterly experimentation and studio meandering; these tableaux, recalling the legacy of late ’60s and ’70s performance art studio documentation, might feel familiar to artists of any stripe fumbling their way towards new ideas.
The creative process can leak out of the studio, or bring in the outside world. This porosity is a recurring theme of The Everywhere Studio, which it introduces with three of Yves Klein’s Anthropometries (1958-1961) presented alongside Andy Warhol’s Dance Diagram  [“The Lindy Tuck-In Turn-Man”] (1962). This pairing draws parallels between the presentation of artmaking as both spectacle and lifestyle in Klein’s theatrical Anthropometry performances, replete with the audience in formalwear, and the steady stream of revelry that passed through Warhol’s Factory. These otherwise aesthetically disparate artworks make an intriguing visual couple, but would have benefited from supplementary film or photographic context from both artists’ voluminous archives, particularly since the artworks are, on the surface, somewhat reticent about the conditions of their making.
The exhibition’s more revelatory moments underscore the studio’s role as a catalytic agent capable of shifting the nature of the work created therein, or on its periphery, in unforeseen ways. Going beyond the studio’s practical function as a space for research, contemplation, and production, selections by Carolee Schneemann and Paul McCarthy exemplify how artists have used the studio as a source of content for the work itself. In Schneemann’s suite of photos, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions (1963, also currently on view at MoMA PS1’s survey of Schneemann’s work, Kinetic Painting), the artist integrates her figure into the clutter of her studio among dramatic assemblages of light and shadow, translucency and reflectivity. The studio and its contents serve as both backdrop and creative apparatus coalescing in an eroticized, chaotic disorientation of figure and ground. Elsewhere, a video captures Paul McCarthy creeping across the studio floor leaving a line of paint in his wake (Face Painting—Floor, White Line (1972)). McCarthy may be best known for his cartoonishly grotesque video installations and sculptures, but John C. Welchman’s essential catalogue essay, House, Yard, Studio, Set, offers a different reading of his work, highlighting instead the important influence of McCarthy’s richly varied studio spaces on the artist’s subject matter and forms of production.
In the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, the museum’s director, Ellen Salpeter, frames the exhibition’s curatorial impetus as charting the progress of “the convention of the studio space as a hermetic space, and following it to the performative, networked, and productive social construct we experience today.” This, we might presume, is the “Everywhere” of the exhibition’s title. However, this narrative is tenuous at best. Neither the catalogue nor the exhibition itself delves very deeply into archival documents which might substantiate, disprove, or suggest historical alternatives to the myth of the artist as an “isolated genius.” The omission is significant if we consider the vast historical array of models of studio production, including Renaissance workshops and craft guilds, the atelier, the academy, plein-air painting, to name just a few. None of these can truly be described as “hermetic” or exempt from broader global networks of production and distribution. In light of the ICA Miami’s contemporary focus—the earliest work in the exhibition, Joseph Beuys’s Tisch mit Aggregat (Table with Accumulator), dates from 1958—the exhibition ultimately falls short of comprehensively addressing such historically far-reaching subject matters.
Gartenfeld concludes his introductory catalogue essay by concurring with conceptual artist Daniel Buren’s 1971 prognosis of the studio’s “extinction,” if not already past then certainly imminent. “The studio,” Gartenfeld writes, “is no longer viable as a site of refuge and self-realization—except in performance, fiction, or nostalgia.” Taken as a whole, The Everywhere Studio instead seems to forecast an accelerationist vision of the artist (albeit one reluctant towards the label) as a laptop-toting, globetrotting drifter who is unavailable for studio visits, but whose email etiquette and social media accounts are sparkling. Where the creation of art objects is involved, the manual labor of production is shifted onto others, purchased off the shelf, or 3D printed at the nearest makerspace. It’s debatable, however, whether this vision of the networked artist takes into account the power of filter bubbles to isolate and confine us within our own socioeconomic outlook. The illusion of connectivity may not, in fact, present any significant departure from the isolated studio model. But I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t also like to meet this character (or at least follow them on Twitter).