Critics’ Picks

View of “Production Site: The Artist’s Studio Inside-Out,” 2010. From left: William Kentridge, Tabula Rasa I, 2003; Balancing Act, 2003; Moveable Assets, 2003; Feats of Prestidigitation, 2003.

View of “Production Site: The Artist’s Studio Inside-Out,” 2010. From left: William Kentridge, Tabula Rasa I, 2003; Balancing Act, 2003; Moveable Assets, 2003; Feats of Prestidigitation, 2003.

Chicago

“Production Site: The Artist’s Studio Inside-Out”

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)
220 East Chicago Avenue
February 6–May 30, 2010

“Production Site” highlights the studio as a place of work, as well as a compelling aesthetic subject in itself. The “selected visual history of the artist’s studio”—installed on a wall directly outside the exhibition galleries, as an initial point of reference—includes a variety of iconic images: Jackson Pollock throwing his body into an “action” painting; Lee Bontecou in her New York studio, blowtorch in hand; Andy Warhol seated alone in his cavernous Factory. There’s even a film still of Julianne Moore as an “avant-garde feminist artist” from The Big Lebowski (1998).

This ancillary display reminds viewers that long-standing misperceptions about the nature of artists’ studios are inevitably linked to the clichés surrounding artists themselves. Perplexingly, however, it is also one of the few points in the exhibition where practitioners actually manifest an embodied presence. Mostly, they appear as trace elements: the whirling dervish of anxiety in Justin Cooper’s video Studio Visit, 2007; the hot white blob of infrared light shutting the studio door at night (Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio II, 2002); the covert operative who comes in to expand and edit her painting’s sprawling narrative only on Mondays, when the museum is closed (Deb Sokolow, You Tell People You’re Working Really Hard on Things These Days, 2010).

There are several memorable exceptions. Nikhil Chopra’s two-day gallery performance offered a brief but potent instance of an artist responding directly, if theatrically, to his immediate environment, while William Kentridge’s magnificent multichannel animation—a meditation on the medium’s place in the history of cinematic trickery—draws viewers into a space that feels authentically “magic,” despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s like walking into a waking dream.