Last month, along with some other ICA staff, I was out in San Francisco for a tour of the contemporary art collection in the new IT building at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (You can read about the tour and my thoughts about art in the workplace here.)
Curators, of course, are always going on studio visits with artists they’re interested in. I have perhaps a romantic notion of these occasions, with artist and curator drinking tea (or something stronger) as they wander from artwork to artwork in a large airy space. The artist’s ideas about a piece and the curator’s ideas come together (in my fantasy) to form something new—something bigger and brighter than anything either of them could give rise to alone. And then, if the chemistry is right, an exhibition is conceived. Some months later, after a period of gestation and a hard, last-minute push, it arrives with a flourish in the world.
This tour wasn’t like that. Still, it was its own kind of revelation.
An artist must think twice before permitting strangers into her sanctum, the place where fragile notions are still wobbling about like new foals, trying to find their legs. It was generous of Stephanie to invite us in, to let us wander around and stare at enigmatic or talismanic objects—coffee cans bristling with tools, remnants of cloth, a life-sized, two-dimensional Eames chair—and to take the time to talk with us about her work.“Most of my projects are very large scale,” Stephanie told us. And most, it turns out, have to do with ownership, counterfeiting, and the economy of the art world. For a recent project at the Catherine Clark Gallery— RAIDERS: International Booty, Bountiful Harvest (Selections from the A_ _ _ _ A _ _ M _ _ _ _ _) —Stephanie downloaded images of vases from the Asian Art Museum’s website, blew them up to size, printed them on photo paper, and mounted them on laser-cut plywood. The resulting collection was put on display facing forward in the gallery, so that it looked to people coming in as though they were entering a vase store. “You’d notice the moment they’d realize that what they were looking at was a cultural prop,” Katie Clark said.
“Essentially I’m raiding the collection of the Asian Art Museum,” Stephanie explained, “to challenge our idea of ownership.” She was also, as an Asian-American artist not deeply connected to Asian art, seeing whether she might find a resonant relationship.
An earlier project, “notMOMA” at Washington State University, invited undergraduate art students to produce replicas of 70 artworks from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art out of whatever materials they could scrounge up: color Xeroxes printed out and pinned to boards, pieces of cardboard cut out and painted to resemble metal, paint dripped Pollock-style onto canvases. “You have all the greatest hits,” Stephanie said: Warhol’s soup cans and a Calder sculpture and that Eames chair I mentioned earlier. “Then you go up closer and you start to see that they fall apart.”Stephanie gives a terrific studio presentation. I was captivated by her ideas and her images, by her account of inviting crocheters around the world to make counterfeit designer bags and her adventure at the 2009 Frieze Art Fair hiring artists to make replicas of art works on offer elsewhere at the fair and selling them at cut-rate prices. The insights she gave are ones she might offer anywhere, but somehow being in the room where she dreams things up gives her story a seductive intimacy. It almost makes one think one could do it oneself—sit in a room like this and wait for the bright, lively ideas to coming flocking in like birds.
Back in Philadelphia, ICA’s exhibition Bill Walton’s Studio runs through the weekend. For the show, we catalogued and moved all the items from the studio of the late minimalist sculptor into our Project Space, where it fits beautifully—though there is a bit less dust.
This Sunday at 2:00 the public is invited to share remembrances of the artist in exchange for an object from the installation (finished works excepted, of course). It’s an extraordinary opportunity to participate in the alchemy of the studio, where bits of wood and tubes of pigment and the spark of an idea incandesce into art.
Join us for Bill Walton: Gifting the Studio Sunday, December 4 at 2:00.
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