Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is co-sponsored by KQED.org.
As an artist, what can I do to make studio visits (with critics, curators, etc.) really, really great? I often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. It might not help that I don’t exactly have a studio-based practice. I’m wondering if there’s anything I should be doing that I don’t know about.
I’ve responded to questions about studio visits before, so take a look at the answers to see if there’s anything that applies to your situation. However, you’re the first artist to ask specifically about visits for a non-studio-based practice, so this time I reached out to some curators and artists who understand what it means to work away from the studio, and they had some tips for you.
No matter what your practice consists of, the normal rules apply: clear away trash and health hazards; offer a beverage and maybe a snack; don’t have anything out that you’re not interested in discussing. One curator in San Francisco told me, “Like a strong artist’s talk, it’s helpful if you walk through your practice either thematically or chronologically. This guides the visitor through your thought process and development, so they understand the issues and ideas that concern you as an artist. It really shouldn’t matter if you have a studio-based practice or not; it’s more important that you effectively communicate what it is that you do and why you do it.”
Dena Beard, Assistant Curator at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, notes that you should “have a loose plan for the visit itself. Set up some past pieces and current projects, make sure that videos work and are loaded and that ambient sound is at a reasonable volume. If your current projects are still in the research stage, show your research process. If you are in a more developed stage, have an execution plan even if you don’t have an exhibition site pinned down (i.e., there will be roughly 8–12 works in this series, the installation will take up 350 square feet of floor space approximately, the piece will rely on $5K of funding for additional elements, etc.).”
Of course, if you don’t have a studio-based practice, you might not have a studio (or access to a studio-like space) at all. One post-studio artist I know suggested: “A non-studio practice is a great opportunity to formulate a really unique and interesting new conception of the studio visit, so consider doing it in a space where your work is currently exhibited, or line up another nice, clean spot to hang your work or show documentation of work.”
This artist adds: “But no matter where you conduct the visit, be prepared! Get to the space early and set it up, get the heat or A/C going, and get the lights on so that it’s comfortable when the visitor gets there. Don’t fumble with your computer trying to find image files, don’t rummage through piles of work to find a piece. Have everything you want to show ready to go. If you’re showing documentation on a computer, don’t simply scroll through your own website; have other images available, either newer works or different views of existing works.”
“Make the work look good. If it’s hanging work, hang it right. Repaint a plinth if necessary. If it’s simply documentation on a computer or in a portfolio, have good-looking, well-organized, clear images. A studio visit is for three things: to meet the artist, to see the work, and to see the working process of the artist. Make sure all three elements are displayed to good advantage.”
A non-studio practice shouldn’t stop you from having a great studio visit, even if the “studio” is a curator’s office, an exhibition space, or even your kitchen table. The trick is to make the space comfortable, be well prepared, and to offer your visitor an overview of your work, your practice, and your ideas. A studio visit is an opportunity to have a stimulating exchange, so bring your best game. Good luck!
This is the last Help Desk column for 2013! Thanks to everyone who submitted a question this year, and thank you to the curators, writers, gallerists, art consultants, artists, instructors, and other arts workers who generously gave their time and energy to helping me find answers!