Even when an artist is alone in their studio, they always have company. Not just their artworks, of course, but also all the objects which inspire them as they work: posters and postcards stuck to the wall, books laid open, artworks by others, newspaper clippings, ephemera and tchotchkes and all manner of everything. More than 7,000 items were catalogued in Francis Bacon’s studio when it was moved to the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, while the Whitechapel Gallery had a whole show about studios last year.

This profusion, and what you can learn about an artist’s practice from it, is represented at Frieze Masters this year in the new Studio section, curated by Sheena Wagstaff, until last year chair of Modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Through early-career and recent artworks and items shipped from these places of making, Wagstaff will spotlight Maggi Hambling, Mona Hatoum, Lucia Laguna, Arlene Shechet and Hyun-Sook Song.

A metal hospital bed frame with a wire mattress base shaped like a web
‘Webbed II’ (2002) by Mona Hatoum © Mona Hatoum, photo by Hugo Glendinning, courtesy White Cube

“I was looking at artists who I felt needed to be re-evaluated,” says Wagstaff when we meet at Frieze’s headquarters in London. “They all have these backgrounds, these life stories where they have overcome something. It’s not illustrated in their work but their work draws from it in some way. So that was one of the criteria.” She also liked that, being further on in their career, they “have so much confidence in what they want to say and express that they start taking risks again, almost as if they go back to the beginning of their career”.

When it comes to the Frieze Masters displays, Wagstaff says Hambling, presented by Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert and Frankie Rossi Art Projects, will be showing a handwritten quote on the back of her studio door from Henry V, “Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood”, an exhortation to action. “It totally makes sense when you know her practice and the kind of artist she is and the kind of human being she is, which is this endeavour always to go further, to keep going.” Other objects range from Laguna’s 18th-century Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print (presented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel and Sadie Coles HQ) to Shechet’s handblown glass breast pump (Pace Gallery) to Song’s newspaper cutting of a cloud formation “like a silk scarf pulled into parallel folds” (Sprüth Magers).

A lush abstracted landscape showing modernist buildings, green foliage, trees and red flowers
‘Paisagem no 140’ (2023) by Lucia Laguna © Eduardo Ortega, courtesy Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel/Sadie Coles

What particularly appealed to Wagstaff, who was chief curator at Tate Modern before she joined the Met in 2012, is that the studio is a meeting-place of the present and the past as embodied in these artefacts: “It’s where all of that accumulated knowledge and expertise and ability to hone materials comes to bear, or is given a spark of creativity, that then manifests itself into an object, whatever that object is.” Wagstaff must be hoping that visitors to Frieze Masters will see those sparks flying.

October 11-15, frieze.com

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