Previewed Feb. 3, 2009, by Ed McDonnell
Artists in their Studios, the main exhibition on display through May 25, 2009 at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, allows visitors glimpses into the places where artists work; very personal, usually solitary places, where the indefinable happens for the artist.
As evidenced in this exhibition, however, these studios have little else in common. The look, the layout and the mood of each is dictated by each artist’s personality, purpose and style. It reflects his needs beyond the technical and practical.
The studio’s purpose might be social or a place of business, or both, or may be strictly private. Often it is revealing of the artist’s tastes, in or outside of his creative, life and as such might be influenced by the times and trends.
The show is made up of dozens of photographs and correspondence from the Smithsonian Institution archives and from the Rockwell Museum’s collection of images including those of Rockwell’s several studios.
The photographs are small but dense with information and they elicit a feeling of invitation, giving the viewer details often unavailable elsewhere, at least in such an affecting way. Their contents are informative, surprising and amusing. There are visual footnotes to the careers and daily lives of the subjects.
Blanche Lazzell’s Provincetown studio is built on a wharf and decorated with a large flower garden in containers, which were said to inspire some of her best-known work.
David Smith moved into an abandoned welding factory and transformed the unused metal there into his sculptures. Grant Wood’s former carriage house is full of reminders of his pervasive rural sensibility. John Singer Sargent stands beside the controversial “Madame X” which so appalled French society at the time, and only sold years later.
The antics of friends and colleagues are documented, as in shots of Saul Steinberg wearing a bag on his head or Ray Johnson solemnly examining his friend Chuck Close’s nose. Both were incorporated into their art:respectively a comment on the artist himself, and in the latter case a broader appreciation of noses.
The show offers a rare experience of a usually neglected facet of creative work and should not be missed.