Research - 'The Studio' and 'The Gallery' or 'The Factory' and 'The White Cube' / by Ally McGinn

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation. 30.11.17

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation. 30.11.17

I have continually found the differences between the studio and gallery fascinating. At university, this difference can be seen in the same space, which is an unusual situation. I doubt I will see it much after university.

The combination of studio and gallery in a single location has been a catalyst for my interests, and this work could have only been created in a space housing that dichotomy.

The Studio - The Factory.

In the studio, the aesthetics of the space are set aside in favour of the process. Artists studios are a snapshot into their minds, and the variety of forms the studio can take are as varied as the artists themselves.

The studio can be defined as the space where an artist ‘works’, where paintings are created, sculptures are formed, and objects become Art, and potentially any site of activity.

An enigmatic geographical location that denies and defies its definition, the studio is as complicated a subject as many found in the artworld.

Developments in the last century include the discovery and embrace of concepts like installation art, relational aesthetics, performance and other site-specific activities, which by definition occur, at least in part, outside the studio. Leading to the suggestion that we are in the stage of the ‘post-studio condition.' (Hoffmann, 2012)

Once, and possibly still, considered a solitary space where an unknowable genius resides, the studio has changed with the modern world, becoming something so-far undefined, and perhaps as indefinable as artists themselves.

Every studio is different and has various demands placed on it. (make no mistake, artists are demanding people)

People continue to have a fascination with the artist's studio, and the activities that take place, undoubtedly in part due to the desire to understand art, and where better to start than understanding the studio. This fascination can be seen in television programs and videos ‘visiting’ the studio, which seem to hover between a recorded reverence and honesty of a documentary and a near romantic escapism.

A clear example of the romanticism of the studio can be seen in the preservation of Francis Bacon’s studio. (Cappock, Undated) Carefully undertaken by a team of professionals, the space has been meticulously collected and replicated in Dublin. The recreation even took the dust collected since Bacon’s death in 1992. What purpose can be found in this preservation of space and object? The studio has been turned into a museum, displaying itself.

Given the rise and expansion of painting, performance, and installation the studio is an artwork awaiting nomination.

The contemporary studio model can be traced back to the shifting focus of art during the Renaissance, as patrons began to fund artists where art had previously been governed by a central system, revolving around the church, and it's monastic institutions. (Klonk, 2009)

The relationship between artist and patron became necessary for both, as individual artists were commissioned to create works for an entire household.

The work would have been created in the ‘bottega’ - workroom - as opposed to the ‘studiolo’ which was more a space for contemplation and study. The etymological link here being the Latin 'studium', meaning to study. (Klonk, 2009)

The artist's development came through apprenticeship; a promising young artist would work for years at the instruction of a master before being considered to learn the art of the master.

This system is linked to the ‘Atelier,' a French word combining studio and workroom, where a single artist would be assisted by a team of apprentices. (Klonk, 2009)

Commissioned portraits would remain a central staple for the artist's livelihood for centuries, as developments in techniques and ideas continued.

The studio became an amalgamation of the workroom and study room, a space where both worked together to create and develop. The contemplation of the 'studiolo' worked into the process of the workroom. (Klonk, 2009)

The basic structure of the atelier and artists themselves remained mostly unchanged from the Middle Ages to the 1800’s. (Klonk, 2009) In 1816 the first academy was opened in Paris - the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts - which hosted its own exhibitions, the first salons, to critique, analyse and support the growing developments in the art world and our understanding of it.(Klonk, 2009)

Academy’s like this became the foundation of art in that century and were the catalysts that avant-guards artists would rebel against in the beginning of Modernism. (Klonk, 2009)

The beginnings of mass-production had a significant impact on art. Making paint, which was once a laborious process became something far different when it could be purchased in small, portable, tubes. (Klonk, 2009) Efficiency was the word of the time - and with efficiency comes introspection and an expansion of philosophy, and therefore, art.

The developments and the natural outlook and creativity of artists led to an entirely new way of painting - en plein air - literally meaning “in open air.” (Klonk, 2009) The studio became mobile.

Artists began to work on their own artwork, rather than a total reliance on commissioned works artworks sold more and more on the basis of their own merit —l'art pour l'art, or "art for art's sake." (Klonk, 2009)

In the 1960’s Andy Warhol subverted the notion of the studio, although his work questions whether it was a subversion or not. His studio became The Factory, a space that owes influence to Ford’s production methods.

Warhol worked extensively with ideas of repetition, replication, and reality, or at least the reality of modern life and the celebrity. The Factory was equally known for drug-fueled parties and a high production of artistic output. (Warhol, 2007) Combined with his persona and perspective Warhol brought us the idea of an artist as a brand. Which I see as a form of practice as artwork.

Jeff Koons, a definite artistic celebrity, employs hundreds of assistants in a studio that looks more like the headquarters of a successful modern company, which is probably because the artist's process is most like one, a cyclical return to the apprentice/master relationship. (Warhol, 2007)

When compared to Warhol’s factory the studios of some contemporary artists look like scientific labs, high-tech think tanks, or indeed any other model.

Like art itself, the artist's studio is always a reflection the spirit of the times, and like the definition of art, the artist's studio is varied, undefinable and delightfully mysterious, often even to the artists.

The Gallery - The white cube.

The gallery was traditionally perceived in the same way we perceive a museum; a place where things are not touched and are idolised in quasi-religious contemplation, and often worship.

From experience, I can say that galleries tend to be quiet places, large or small, where visitors are monitored for behaviour, although often unobtrusively.

While the physical appearance and expectations are one of good behaviour, the experiences of a museum and art galleries are designed to be a positive one.

Interestingly, when museums began to be opened to the public, in the eighteenth century, they were used by the public as other public spaces were, as places to spend downtime with friends and family. Charlotte Klonk writes in her book, Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800–2000, that it was through room design and layout that the shift in museum etiquette began.

The creation of public galleries meant that arts audience widened dramatically, and therefore it's purpose altered. That goal is still vehemently argued but the shift to what we now know as art can be linked to the opening of these public spaces.

The white cube can be traced to MOMA in the 1930’s. (Maak, Klonk and Demand, 2011) The culmination of various roots, the white cube was the result of a desire to show the depth and colour of paintings produced at the time against the most contrasting background, a pure white wall. (Klonk, 2011) Klonk discusses another root in the desire for hygiene, a white wall shows dirt more easily and appears clean. In the 1920’s theories were emerging about the connotations between white and infinite space. Combined with the increasing desire for temporary spaces to exhibit the white cube emerged.

In full effect by the 1950’s anyone who has since been to an art gallery will have experienced the white cube. Designed to house, acknowledge and present art to the public, aka, the consumer.

It wouldn't be wrong to suggest that, the majority of artworks are experienced in galleries or other forms of curated settings.  A transformative process, curation takes the artwork from studio to gallery.  During the post-creation time, the process of art becomes one of curation. The works are placed carefully, the space aligned with other elements of the work to enhance themes, ideas, and conversations.

Galleries are a mix of publicly and privately funded institutions where art can be exhibited and experienced. (Maak, Klonk and Demand, 2011) Curators have increased in importance and amount as the development of art has grown. The vast majority of artists make work to be shown in galleries. These institutions have become almost religious in their status as the bastions of fine art.

Galleries are designed to be visited, and when the onlooker enters the gallery, they are trusting the institution. The larger the gallery, the more the public trusts that the work will be ‘good.' In turn, a gallery has a responsibility to its visitors to ensure that the trust is earned and validated.

Galleries are not without their biases, in fact, the reverse is closer to the truth. The experience of a gallery is carefully curated to achieve a specific result. It is a physical space utterly controlled by a theoretical ideal. This is no secret and artists often use the white cube to their advantage. The gallery becomes another blank canvas; the space is the surface. Galleries are a lens through which art can be seen.  

The exploration of this bias has led to a relatively new term, Installation art, discussed on another page in this blog.

Looking at a piece of art against a white background removes all associations, other than those with art. The idea is to show the single art in it's purest form.

Curation allows the experience of the entire space to work by invoking the experiences of the individual works into a narrative whole.

“We have to be able to forget that there are walls and have found no better way to do that, than with pictures. Pictures efface walls. But walls kill pictures.” (Bachelard, 1992)

The gallery is designed to be aseptic, to show as little human presence as possible. Toilets, desks, shops and other areas of purpose are kept away from the work where possible or otherwise as unobtrusive as possible. (Maak, Klonk and Demand, 2011)  - experience??

The spaces exist for experience and contemplation alone. This expectation of behaviour and understanding can be uncomfortable for some, but the intention is all about the art.

The white cube remains a somewhat controversial subject and has become close enough to the factors that constitute an artwork that it can be argued to be an artwork in its own right.


Observations of gallery and studio have formed most of this text, experience. These observations have formed many works directly, and an indirect interest in this juxtaposition is part of the foundation of my interests.

This research has been an additional element of my growing collection. Knowing the traditional and origins of both studio and gallery has been a useful tool through my explorations.

It's interesting to note that both gallery and studio can be seen as artwork, in theory, if not in practice.


Klonk, C. (2009) Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800–2000. Yale University Press.

Bachelard, G. (1992) The Poetics of Space. New York. Penguin Publishing.

Hoffmann, J. (2012) The Studio. MIT Press.

Cappock, M. (Undated) History of Studio Relocation. [Online] Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane. Available from: [Accessed 17.11.17].

Maak, N. Klonk, C. and Demand, T (2011) ‘The White Cube and Beyond’. Tate. [Online] Available from: [Accessed  20.11.17].

Warhol, A (2007) The Philosophy of Andy Warhol : From A and B and Back Again. St Ives : Penguin Books.