Artist Tim Rice in his North Berkeley studio
In Christopher Bollen‘s recent joint interview with Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith—the leading power couple in the world of art critics—the topic of studio visits came up.
Neither Smith nor Saltz do them, and they listed a number of reasons why. Here is Saltz’s response:
I think both of us want to see the show the way a viewer would see a show—with no inside information. I might ask, “What’s the material?” or “Which one came first?” Something simple, but I don’t want to hear at all what the artist thinks. And I’m not writing for the artist. I’m writing for the reader, and I want to tell the reader what I think.
Smith seems to agree and additionally points to the fairness factor: There is no way she can do everyone, so best to just avoid that practice altogether. She values the distance that an art critic needs to maintain:
An important thing for a critic is a kind of disinterest…I think the work of art, whatever form it takes, is the artist’s statement. And I don’t want secondary statement—unless I have real questions—from the artist or from the dealer or from anybody.
Studios are their own domain, and seeing a body of work in that context can significantly shift the experience. But it can cut both ways.
For those of us who are art lovers and not art critics, taking that deeper dive into the intimacy of an artist’s workplace can be very valuable. The “rag and bone shop” construction site offers up so many other clues, and the context can be an important part of coming into an understanding of an artist’s intention and primary themes. I have had several curators tell me my studio space is its own statement and that the relationship to my work was revelatory. I have felt that seeing my work in the studio setting usually helps people see the work more fully, in a more informed way.
We live during a time when the carefully vetted and “airbrushed” presentation of one’s self and one’s life is the norm on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. It has made me even more intrigued by being exposed to what really exists beneath a carefully edited and often deceptive facade. While art is not equatable to the rampant proliferation of manufactured “selfie” versions being offered to the online world, I am more aware of the value of the unchoreographed, the raw footage.
I do like Saltz’s response to the question of how to handle dealers:”What I’ve started saying to them is, ‘Don’t talk. I can’t hear myself see.'” While studio visits have their place, I am with him all the way that no matter where I am viewing work, I want to see without language obstructing my view.