Photo by Joseph Morris on Unsplash
The hallowed studio visit is the ideal way for artists to engage with curators, gallerists, and collectors. It can also be totally nerve-racking.
There’s no manual on the best way to conduct a studio visit because there’s simply no “standard” studio visit. Every visit will be different, and rightly so. Studio visit audiences—and objectives—run the gamut, so artists should tailor each studio visit for the unique individual(s) they’re hosting.
Studios themselves come in all shapes, sizes—and flavors. An artist may work out of a shared or temporary space, their own home, a storefront, or some other variation on the theme. A recent article in Hyperallergic highlighted some of the alternative venues that Denver-based artists and curators have activated to both make and share their work—in light of the city’s rapidly rising rents that have pushed art spaces to the urban periphery.
A studio can simply be wherever art happens. For a successful studio visit, however, the agenda of the other party should always be considered, as well as their unique circumstances.
For the sake of clarity, we’ve identified three of the most common—and important—studio visit types: the nonprofit curator visit, the gallery director visit, and the collector visit.
- The Nonprofit Curator Studio Visit
In general, the nonprofit curator is usually seeking works for an exhibition in which nothing will be for sale. These visits tend to focus more on the conceptual parts of the artist’s practice, as well as production specifics, the artists’ biographies, and why they make the work they do.
- The Gallery Director Studio Visit
The gallery director studio visit is more about business, as it should be. Sure, gallery directors can talk concept all day long, but, as business owners, they also need to consider the bottom line. These studio visits often include discussions about prices and consignment terms, marketing, logistics and, in some cases, fabrication.
- The Collector Studio Visit
If you are hosting a collector who already owns your work, then just enjoy the conversation! If you are hosting a potential buyer, then you should have prices ready, as well as a curated selection of pieces to show them, so as not to overwhelm. If you are represented by a gallery, then it’s common practice for a gallery representative to also be present during a collector studio visit. That gallery rep should also take care of price negotiations, so you can focus on explaining your work.
We spoke to three Denver-based curators—Lauren Hartog, Cortney Lane Stell, and Brooke Tomiello— about their experiences with studio visits and their advice for artists. Each curator represents a different, but overlapping, segment of the art world.
Brooke Tomiello, Cortney Lane Stell, and Lauren Hartog
Lauren Hartog is the co-founder of the commercial gallery and project space Friend of a Friend. She also works at the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver, organizing shows that include blue-chip and historical works by the likes of Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Rauschenberg.
Cortney Lane Stell is the executive director and chief curator of Black Cube, a “nomadic art museum” that specializes in site-specific installations by contemporary artists. These have included a public skatepark—transformed to also mitigate flooding—by the artist Matt Barton, as well as a 24-foot-tall sculpture of a broiler chicken skeleton, installed in Denver’s Central Library by German artist Andreas Greiner. Black Cube also runs an artist fellowship program that supports large-scale projects by artists such as Adam Milner and Marguerite Humeau.
Brooke Tomiello is the curator and senior director of Lane Meyer Projects, an alternative exhibition space that “operates as an exhibition hall and community resource for all audiences,” according to its website. In her role at Lane Meyer Projects, Brooke has curated exhibitions featuring Marsha Mack, Corin Hewitt and Elizabeth Glaessner, to name a few.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve fielded from artists about preparing for studio visits, answered by three esteemed curators from our beloved hometown.
Installation shot, Juice Cleanse, solo show by Marsha Mack, curated by Brooke Tomiello at Lane Meyer Projects. Photo by John Roemer.
What are the most important things artists should consider when preparing for a studio visit?
- First and foremost, understand the nature of the visit.
Think through the artwork being discussed/presented—have questions ready, important points you'd like to discuss, clarify, and educate on. I personally like when artists can walk through examples of work and how they got to their current focus.
Try not to be distracted—being present with the visitor will make for a beneficial studio visit for all parties involved.
Cortney Lane Stell:
My biggest advice for artists is to be clear about the focus of the studio visit before you start. If the person has not indicated the reason for the visit, don’t be afraid to ask for clarity.
There are lots of different agendas for studio visits—sometimes I'm just trying to keep up on emerging artists or get a sense of an art community, whereas other visits may be focused on procuring an artist for an exhibition or site-specific project. Having a clear sense of the reason behind the visit will help set your expectations and avoid awkward interactions.
Beyond having that clarity, I recommend that artists have a mix of works available that can help show the breadth of their practice. I love seeing older works alongside newer works, smaller works next to large ones, works in progress and completed works, and so on.
"Lastly, my favorite suggestion, is to have sketches, renderings, or notes for artworks that are not yet realized.
Finding the beginnings of ideas is always fun for me, as I love to produce new works with artists and many others do too. You never know who wants to help make your wildest visions a reality." - Cortney Lane Stell
Let me know what topics are important to discuss upfront so that we can unpack them together. These goals for the studio visit should be oriented towards you and your practice specifically—studio visits are not means to an end. Approach them as learning opportunities and informal, honest discussions where the exchange of ideas is the primary objective.
Preparing some goals for the studio visit also helps me feel more comfortable. Studio visits are very exciting, and it is the utmost compliment to be invited to one. These are very important occurrences to art lovers, writers, and thinkers—so much so that I often get nervous before them.
In a strange way, a studio visit is almost like a first date. For a lot of the artists I visit, it is the first time we’ve had a sustained conversation without interruptions. Giving me roadmaps and tools to better understand the way you make and why helps a nervous soul like myself immensely.
What are some questions artists should ask themselves before opening their studio to visitors?
What do you most want to gain from this studio visit?
How does the work you’re showing me relate to your larger practice?
Are there areas of your work that you would like me to pay particular attention to?
What is informing the work you’re showing me?
How do you prefer to receive feedback or have someone ask you a question?
Are there places in your studio you don’t want me to touch things, or be mindful of wet paint, debris, etc?
What stage of completion are these works in?
Why are you showing me this particular body of work?
Why did you ask me to visit your studio, specifically? (Don’t butter my biscuit, but I do want to know if there is a reason.)
Artists work in so many different capacities—if they're scheduling studio visits, timing is most important.
So, artists should ask themselves if they actually have the availability to spend time and not feel rushed. Not having back-to-back meetings/studio visits would make the studio visit feel less burdened with a timeframe and can provide the opportunity for a more in-depth conversation to happen.
Some others are—Do I have work to share? Do I have questions prepared?
Installation view: Kaitlyn Tucek, Somewhereness, Friend of a Friend, cofounded by Lauren Hartog and Derrick Velasquez.
How do artists approach you for studio visits? What is your preferred method of being contacted?
I’m open to many forms of communication, so long as it’s professional, polite, and has a written record— I say that so that I have a record of our conversation and will remember the “ask” better later on when I’m figuring out my schedule.
Text, email, or even an Instagram DM are all valid. Just please don’t cold call me—I’m terrible with my phone even on a good day and I prefer to have things written down so I can keep them straight.
Most of the studio visits I have had lately are ones that I initiate, although I am getting more requests as COVID (hopefully!) calms down. Studio visits are so special—it’s really very lovely to be invited into an artist’s space.
I am invited through email, Instagram, phone call or text!
How long should a studio visit last?
There are so many factors to a studio visit—and a lot of those factors come down to purpose. So depending on the nature of the studio visit, it could last two hours. But I think a minimum of 30 minutes is a good intro to learning how an artist works, what their work is about, and what it could be about, etc.
Cortney Lane Stell:
For me, an introductory studio visit usually lasts between 30 minutes to an hour and a half.
If I've traveled for the studio visit, then I'll spend more time. Conversely, when I’m trying to get a sense of the local artist community, I’ll spend a shorter period of time as its more of a survey approach to scheduling visits.
Generally, studio visits should be like a good conversation. You should have a sense of how long the person wants to be in your studio, but you should also let the conversation flow naturally. A short visit does not mean that it’s a bad visit. This is truly a quality over quantity situation.
What do you find very annoying at a studio visit that an artist should be aware of?
Amicability and flexibility are both traits I aim to embody during any studio visit. I am, after all, a guest in a private space.
However, there are several pitfalls that are easy to fall into during a studio visit—the most common is not having set questions or points of the discussion asked of me.
"Above all else, a studio visit should be constructive to both the artist and the visitor. Though you, as the artist, should be leading this conversation, it is also important to leave room for your visitors to share their observations, ask clarifying questions, and perhaps provide feedback. Again, the emphasis on a studio visit is an exchange." - Lauren Hartog
Though artists are in their own element and should lead the way, they should not dominate the visit. If I wanted to hear you and only you talk (which, as a curator and writer, I do love—sometimes) I’d look on your website, read your CV, or watch recordings of your past lectures.
Installation view: The Fulfillment Center, 2019. Curated by Cortney Lane Stell, Black Cube Headquarters, Englewood, CO. Courtesy of Black Cube. Photo by Third Dune Productions.
What are you trying to get out of a studio visit? Do you only do visits with a particular purpose in mind (ie group show) or do you do studio visits just to stay fresh?
Cortney Lane Stell:
There's really no “typical” reason for a studio visit within my curatorial practice, but there is a range of reasons as I mentioned before. Sometimes a studio visit is just an introduction, sometimes it's a courtesy, sometimes it’s an artist I’ve been seeking to work with.
Though, I must say, that I am the type of curator who likes to work with artists in a serial way, meaning having deeper relationships where we work together on multiple occasions.
Given that, it’s not uncommon that I invite an artist into a group exhibition before dipping into a deeper commitment with them. Group exhibitions are less of a commitment between an artist and an institution. They can help me get a gradual introduction to an artist’s practice as well as the logistical side of their practice (dealing with deadlines, their writing, how they ship artwork, etc.).
"There are artists who I've done my due diligence on understanding their practice, who I sincerely want to build a relationship with— I'm a curator who likes to build relationships with artists, and I like to work with artists again, and again. I love when artists know that about me and also see a studio visit as building a relationship, and not purely transactional."
- Cortney Lane Stell
I don't like this sort of “one and done” approach that is super common in the field. I don't blame curators for that, as there’s that aspect of the field where people are always trying to show what's new and fresh.
Studio visits can happen for several reasons—I might be interested in your work for a particular show, or I might just think you are really fascinating and want to speak with you and learn your way of seeing.
Either way, I try to let artists know why I would like to visit them, or I will ask them out-front their intentions if I’ve been invited. This prevents misunderstandings of both parties’ intentions.
I enjoy learning about the artist and their practice—what they are currently focused on and how they got there. I enjoy when artists are able to show previous work, and I look for artists who are able to talk through their work and ask questions.
Any advice for artists with "home studio" situations?
Coming from mostly curating in alternative spaces and understanding that studio space is expensive, I don't think twice about artists inviting me to their home.
"A studio visit is an important tool for learning, connecting, understanding, and growth—and can lead to opportunities like exhibitions or interviews, grow your network, and engender a wonderful conversation." - Brooke Tomiello
Home studios are totally cool—and very common! Personally, I don’t see home studios differently than studios located remotely. Studio spaces are expensive and competitive to get. If there is one thing being in the so-called “art world” has taught me, it’s that art can —and does —happen anywhere.
"Please set boundaries and expectations for your visitors to your home studio. You are in control and should feel comfortable and respected." - Lauren Hartog
If you live with other people that might be home during the visit, it’s also useful to have a conversation with them before the visitor to establish similar ground rules.
(For example, “Pete the roommate” should not be engaged in sexual activity while you’re showing the cool new gallerist in town your latest work. Even the greatest piece or most poetic metaphor you’ll ever make is completely invalidated when accompanied by grunting and bed frame squeaking from the other room.)
What do you wish artists knew about the studio visit process that it seems like maybe they don't?
Studio visits are where artists are (or should be, ideally) fully in control and leading the conversation. I say this to empower artists, rather than put them on the spot or create more anxiety surrounding a studio visit. You are your own best advocate and spokesperson.
Studio spaces are very intimate—they are realized extensions of the artists’ person and their creative practice. Visitors to studio spaces (including curators, gallerists, and collectors) must accept that they are entering a private realm and are guests.
I’ve heard of many situations where the proximity of a studio visit has led visitors to act inappropriately or attempt to take advantage of an artist in more ways than one. This is not the norm—don’t tolerate anything beyond where your personal boundaries lie.
"If you don’t have boundaries surrounding studio visits, perhaps it is time to consider setting them. Be cautious and very aware of who is invited to your space." - Lauren Hartog
It’s also important to check in with yourself after studio visits. What did you get out of the experience? What could have gone better? What went well?
These questions can help you pick through what is bound to be a lot of back and forth between you and your visitors. If you have follow up thoughts or questions, don’t be afraid to share them.