An artist's space can reveal as much about him or her as their actual artworks can, an idea that CH explores in our regular Studio Visit series. Taking things to a new level is "Art Studio America," a massive, 600-page book from Thames & Hudson, which visits the homes and workspaces of 115 leading contemporary artists. The line-up is an A-list of anyone who's anyone in the contemporary art world.
The title, "Art Studio America," is slightly misleading—the book isn't all photos of interiors. London-based editor and writer Hossein Amirsadeghi (a longtime researcher of contemporary art around the world) sits down with every artist and conducts an intimate face-to-face interview, using their personal studio as a both literal and figurative backdrop. Interestingly, he orders the conversations chronologically, starting with the interview he conducted in July 2012 with Shirin Neshat in New York City.
Amirsadeghi embarks on a year-long journey of surveying the contemporary art scene in America, even visiting a few expat artists who have chosen Europe and elsewhere as their permanent home. Throughout the book, Amirsadeghi builds upon what he's learned in previous interviews and poses questions that drill deep into artists' personal thoughts and dreams, ultimately piecing together a comprehensive picture of what America (the "potpourri of cultures") has contributed and how it's challenged our knowledge of the world today.
"I make art books but I'm not part of the art world," Amirsadeghi tells CH. "I do not belong to any fraternity; no organization is supporting me. Taking art to the people, that's my mission. I am an outsider; I call myself the analytical archeologist within in the contemporary art world and I make it clear in my forward that this art is social history."
With last week's record-shattering sale of Francis Bacon's triptych—the most expensive work of art ever sold at an auction (for $142.4 million)—the question of artists' significance and value within culture is raised at a very relevant time. "Art doesn't make a difference to anybody's life. It doesn't build houses or produce computers or electronic equipment. Artists don't cure diseases, they don't choose to go to war—what does an artist do? These are important questions that the book raises, visually explored by the photography that sets a tone that humanizes them."
Amirsadeghi interviews established "superstars" such as Marina Abramović, Chuck Close, Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel and Robert Irwin, as well as newer faces like Cory Arcangel and Tauba Auerbach. But arranging these interviews—especially considering the requirement of photographing their studio—was no small feat. "What we had was a master list, a wishlist of artists," says Amirsadeghi. "By necessity, there was a limited amount of space that the book could hold—as you can see it [weighs] five kilos. There were people who refused and there were people who didn't refuse but timed us out. Robert Indiana who hadn't been interviewed for many, many years had agreed to one. The very last minute, that very evening, he got cold feet. Artists are romantically stereotyped as eccentric; that's part of creativity. But that was a bummer."
Yet other artists—who were initially hesitant at first—ended up talking for more than an hour with Amirsadeghi, which was the case with Richard Prince. "That proved once I got my foot in the door, I opened the subject up in a totally different way. My interview style is rather unconventional—it's very different as you will read from the Q&As. They are very invasive and exploratory and very off track," he says. "We're not just looking at the visual interior space of the artist and following them around with the camera. It's also the inner-space of the mind that I intended to explore." As a final word of advice, he adds: "The book is meant to be consumed in portions, not as a meal."
Released this November, "Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces," with photography by Robin Friend, is available from Thames and Hudson for $95. It's the second installment in the series that started with "Sanctuary: Britain's Artists and Their Studios."
Images courtesy of ©TransGlobe Publishing from "Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces"; photo of cover by Nara Shin