Museums Want You to Think about the Conditions for Art Making

About the Museum of Craft and Design’s Fight and Flight exhibition, collective housing for artists, and books about their homes and studios.

What does it take to be, and continue being, an artist? First and foremost, a place to live. Cities and neighborhoods offering cheap rent often play an important part in establishing new movements. Think the Beats generation and North Beach in San Francisco, the school of Paris in Montparnasse or the role of the Provence landscape in the work of Van Gogh and the impressionists. The Museum of Craft and Design’s Fight and Flight exhibition asks what it takes to continue making art in a region, the Bay Area, known for its astronomical rent and costs of living.

Michelle Yi Martin, Petaled Cosmos (2023)

“Bay Area Art is what Bay Area Artists make” states the preface to the exhibition. There are no clear themes or media throughout the works exhibited. Most do not explicitly address the context of their making besides artists’ description of their relationship to the areaCheryl Derricotte‘s The Geography of an Artist, being a notable exception. The catalog however includes pictures of exhibited artists’ studios, which go a long way to highlight how local conditions shape art practices. The space needed for a floor loom or a printer, the heights of ceilings, the type of light, the space needed for storage, the material conditions that have to be met for this type of practice to develop.

Cheryl Derricotte‘s The Geography of an Artist

Artists’ studios have long picked interest. Liberman’s “The Artist in his studio” (1960) documented modern artists’ studio in the mid-20th century, aiming to capture aspects he felt missing from art history. Some museums preserve whole rooms’ contents, others even recreate artists’ studios. In the early 2000s, the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program started awarding grants to preserve artists’ homes and workplaces. Books from the mid 00s on picture artists’ homes. Picasso is one of the recurring artists featured, while crafters’ homes become more prominent over time.

Others more directly study the relationship between homes and artworks, and how evolutions in domestic spaces are reflected in performance art in particular. In 2022, Whitechapel Gallery curated an exhibition on a century of the artist studio, bringing together a variety of these points of views and concluded with artists taking the studio as a subject. Overlooked in the exhibition itself were the gendered and economic disparities in access to studio space and time. Meanwhile, collectives were almost entirely erased in favor of a focus on personal dwellings.

Artists have often hosted each other when they had the means. I find collective, grassroots projects aiming to provide artists with a place to live and work fascinating, whether art squats or more structured projects. Developing Environments, a San Francisco artists collective originally named Project 2 (after the better known Project One) has operated since 1972. Westbeth in New York City is still a fascinating experiment, that not only provided artists’ with a place to live, but also with a community to share childcare and domestic work.

Making this infrastructure visible is one step in ensuring it continues to exist. Fight and Flight addresses this by centering contributions from the  San Francisco Art Institute – now bankrupt, its building now potentially becoming a community arts center. I would have loved to see more from the artists reflecting on how their access to space has shaped their practices, but it’s worth catching either online or before it closes on September 10, 2023.

Andrea Bower’s 2016 neon sculpture: “Community or Chaos” at McEvoy’s Foundation for the Arts, seen the same day.

Citer ce billet
Emeline Brulé (2023, 9 septembre). Museums Want You to Think about the Conditions for Art Making. Design and Society. Consulté le 28 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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