Sheena Wagstaff Explains the Genesis of ‘Studio’ at Frieze Masters

The curator of Frieze Masters’ new section introduces the project and offers a glimpse into the workspaces of its five participating artists: Maggi Hambling, Mona Hatoum, Lucia Laguna, Arlene Shechet and Hyun-Sook Song

BY Sheena Wagstaff in Frieze Masters | 06 OCT 23

Sheena Wagstaff: Since its founding 11 years ago, artists have always loved visiting Frieze Masters. As a museum curator, I have encountered artist friends of all generations whilst exploring the fair over the years. Despite the salient differences between an art fair and a museum, I have come to understand that artists visit Frieze Masters for the same reason that they visit the British Museum, The Met or the V&A: to reward their curiosity and refresh their thinking. They also buy historical works of art for themselves.

These chance meetings in the aisles of Frieze Masters highlight a feature of critical significance for many con- temporary artists whose work I consider particularly important. History is vitally alive and relevant to their work and lives today. Casting back beyond the 1900 divide, they seek out art by both anonymous makers and well-loved names, sometimes looking to artefacts in media other than their own to spark their intellectual curiosity, inform their creative imagination and assist the invention and honing of their craft. Digging deep into older, global narratives, their resultant works of art condense time itself to yield remarkable works of quality that authoritatively expand the great arc of art history.

Consequently, the opportunity to highlight a few of these artists in the context of the vast cornucopia of historical material at Frieze Masters led me to the idea of ‘Studio’. I selected five distinguished, internationally renowned individuals – Maggi Hambling, Mona Hatoum, Lucia Laguna, Arlene Shechet, Hyun-Sook Song – each unique within the group for their means of making and the media they use. What unites them is their vigour, material intelligence, and – most importantly – the creative maturity to reinvent their practice by embracing risk-taking and paradox, to reach deeper complexity and meaning in their oeuvre. Each Studio booth offers a condensed career, from early to more recent work, through which the artist can revisit, refine or expand ideas, evincing the cyclical nature of artistic practice.

Maggi Hambling’s Studio Door, Suffolk, 2023. Photograph: Douglas Atfield
Maggi Hambling’s Studio Door, Suffolk, 2023. Photograph: Douglas Atfield

The idea of Studio is to evoke the spirit of an artist’s place of making and its role in their creative practice and career. Whether in a spare room, a former industrial unit, a repurposed public building, or, due to expanded artistic practice in multiple media, other forms of creative space, the place of making art is where the graft happens. Day after day, decade after decade. As the artist Kerry James Marshall put it, ‘the work is the work’. It is in the studio that the spark of invention becomes manifest as an object in the world, in which time-past flows into time-future. However, the very fabric of a studio also offers an intriguing still point. Here, the ‘life ephemera’ of an artist accumulates over the years. A palimpsest of flotsam and jetsam that is often surprising, it includes images, objects and texts imbued with personal narrative, retained as aides-mémoire and as sources of inspiration. Integral to each Studio booth is a small display of this artistic detritus, offering a tantalizing glimpse into the inner sanctum, providing clues to the genesis of an artist’s oeuvre and revealing fascinating influences that attest to an artist’s journey.

They can be as various as an image of Samuel Beckett near a handwritten exhortation by Shakespeare’s Henry V to ‘stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood’ (Hambling); a postcard of a Buddhist stupa next to a quote by Pre- Columbian art scholar George Kubler, ‘Actuality is when the lighthouse is dark between flashes: it is the instant between the ticks of the watch’, from his 1962 work The Shape of Time, with a French 15th century Book of Hours (Shechet); a magazine reproduction of Van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (c.1435) alongside an 18th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock print (Laguna); a photograph by Man Ray of fellow photographer Dora Maar with a spiderweb superimposed on her perfect face (Hatoum); or a newspaper cutting of a remarkably dense lenticular cloud formation like a silk scarf pulled into parallel folds, with a colour reproduction of Caspar David Friedrich’s Waft of Mist (c.1818–20, Song). To be able to look ‘over the shoulder’ of artists in this way fires the imagination and contributes to our understanding of the ideas that have informed their sensibility. It is from this small mix of extraordinary things – a metaphor for the rich flux of the studio as a living, changing space – that visitors might also deduce the remarkable personal stories of each artist.

Maggi Hambling, 27.7.98 (1), 1998, charcoal on paper, 57 × 76 cm. Courtesy: the artist
Maggi Hambling, 27.7.98 (1), 1998, charcoal on paper, 57 × 76 cm. Courtesy: the artist 

Notwithstanding the ephemerality of a fair, Frieze Masters has some important similarities with a museum in which time is telescoped: they are both domains of centuries-old objects, charged with thorough research and selected for their excellence. Such timelessness can be moored temporarily – and temporally – in presentations that evoke how meaning is created in the time and place of making, in which the creative connection between the present and the past is at its highest pitch in the studio.

Studio is conceived as a new kind of display space for thinking historically in the present, in which living artists act as a conduit between old and new to show us that continuities exist. Not in a direct one-to-one correspondence between ancient and modern, but upholding creative values of the past that have been reimagined and embodied in a new form.

These past years we have come to learn that we can experience the same circumstantial phenomenon as it occurs simultaneously on the other side of the globe. More than ever, we share the knowledge that we should do more about tomorrow. To respond to our current sense of urgency, it is ever more important to bring new and old together, to have a vivid sense of the past and how we translate this for the future. Artists help to shape that view, in which the joy of living is found in discovering new possibilities.

Frieze Masters and Frieze London take place concurrently from 11-15 October 2023 in The Regent’s Park, London. Studio is on view at Frieze Masters for the duration of the fair. 


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Main Image: Hyun-Sook Song, 5 Brushstrokes over 1 Brushstroke, 2011, tempera on canvas, 130 × 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sprüth Magers; photograph: Timo Ohler © Hyun-Sook Song

Sheena Wagstaff is former Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, now vested as Chair Emerita. Previously, Wagstaff was Chief Curator of Tate Modern, UK. She currently serves on the International Advisory Committee of Istanbul Modern, Turkey; and the Advisory Board of Delfina Foundation, London, UK.