Enter the Private World of Photographers' Studios

"A room of one's own"

Artist and Model Reflected in a Mirror 1, 2008© Elina Brotherus—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Artists at Work 9, 2009© Elina Brotherus—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Dawn, 2013© David Gilbert—Courtesy of Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, NY
Web Site, 2013© David Gilbert—Courtesy of Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, NY
Lovely Six Foota, 2007© Mickalene Thomas—Courtesy Mickalene Thomas Studio
I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do, 2012© Anne Collier
To want for nothing #1, 2015© Laura Letinsky—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Untitled (Geographic Delay), 2009© Leslie Hewitt
Self-Portrait Study with Two Figures (1506), 2015© Paul Mpagi Sepuya—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Modular, 2014© Yamini Nayar—Courtesy Thomas Erban Gallery, NY
Untitled #217 (Skull on Cross), 2009© Saul Fletcher—Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY
Shot/Reverse Shot (Corner Piece #2), December 18, 2012© Bryan Graf—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Madame Mama Bush, 2012© Mickalene Thomas—Courtesy Mickalene Thomas Studio
Borrar, 2015© Pello Irazu—Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Untitled, 1973© The Jay DeFao Trust—Artists Rights Society/Courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY

Most photographic art since the inception of the medium has been extroverted. Photographers go out into the world, they wander, they encounter, they come home with portable objects representing that engagement.

The parallel, lesser-known history is what happens when they stay in and work against the four walls of the studio—beyond just portraiture, fashion, or product photography—experiments surveyed in MoMA's "A World of Its Own" exhibition last year. Taking it's title from the seminal early-feminist Virginia Woolf essay, "A Room of One's Own," at Yancey Richardson Gallery through Aug. 21, 2015, plays off of that historical show, looking further inward not just at the process of experimenting in the studio, but at the space itself, as a muse and subject in the art of 12 contemporary photographers, including Anne Collier, Mickalene Thomas, and Laura Letinsky.

“The rooms differ so completely. They are calm or thunderous, open on to the sea, or, on the contrary, give on to a prison yard. They are hung with washing or alive with opals and silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers—one has only to go into any room in any street for the whole of that extremely complex force of femininity to fly into one’s face.” —Virginia Wolfe, "A Room of One's Own"

What we don't necessarily see in this show are topographic or architectural kind of photos cataloging these photographers' private interiors, how their outfitted, arranged, etc. Instead, the photos examine the studio like a psychological space, an existential world. "It is the first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent limits/frames will depend," Daniel Buren wrote in his 1971 essay, "The Function of a Studio." It can have a "simultaneously ideating and ossifying function," he argues, and while Virginia Woolf defined it chiefly as a space of empowerment where one may create with utmost conviction, Buren says it can also function as a kind of "purgatory," a place from which one may need to escape.

Several of the featured photographers seem to visualize that condition through various mirroring devices, such as Elina Brotherus, Bryan Graf, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya, whose self-portrait taken through a mirror covered in photographic prints lends to a dizzying sense of the various surfaces and by extension boundaries between the subject, artist, artspace, and art object collapsing in on each other. If some of the images at times seem tangential to the show's premise, seem more like still-lifes or portraits, others like the cubist assemblages of Pello Irazu remind that in this particular mode of image-making and expression, those traditional boundaries don't necessarily apply. Rather, they are various parts of something sculptural and singular.

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