Earlier this month, the young art collector Tiffany Zabludowicz was given temporary access to an empty corporate suite in a Times Square office building and decided to transform it into the site of a three-week artist residency. Last week, she launched the project , called Work in Progress, with a column musing on whether fine-art can ever really be an office job. This week, she returns with an update on how her creative temp staff is faring.
On Saturday morning, I received a call from the lobby of the office building. Much to my surprise, Haley Mellin, Joshua Citarella, and Cyril Duval, three of the artists-in-residence, were waiting to get let into the office by security. Having not anticipated that the artists would be keen to work weekends, I hadn’t notified the building in advance. When the doorman asked me to specify the company they hailed from, it was with much amusement that I was able to reply, “artist.” Work in Progress is becoming more businesslike by the day.
In fact, the artists have proven more than eager to take advantage of their time in this unusual corporate setting. At the beginning of the week, I strolled the office and noticed that everybody was serious, focused, and productive. Sarah Meyohas, the young artist and Upper East Side gallerist, had begun setting up a new business in relation to MEYOHAS LLC (which she just had launched the previous week) and looking into all the very tiny, complicated details that go into doing that.
Brad Troemel and Josh were continuing to invent fake art-inflected products for their Etsy site and Haley was beginning to paint with a print of a photograph of a painting by Gerhard Richter. VioletDennison set about reading and writing and taking it all in, lying down colored blankets in a corner of her office. Cyril also quietly read some books from the growing collection entering his meticulously curated office.
On Monday, Ryan McNamara, the artist perhaps best known for his performance ME3M 4: A Story Ballet About the Internet, stopped by. I couldn’t resist asking him if there was anybody he would recommend for the residency, drawn to the idea of a dancer activating Times Square. The next morning Ryan texted me a suggested addition to the residency: the artist and choreographer Sigrid Lauren, a founder of the collaborative dance duo FLUCT.
Sigrid came in that afternoon and met Joshua and me in the Starbucks where we getting our afternoon caffeine fix. After taking the elevator up, she chose her office, selecting one that was large enough for her to dance in. We had a conversation about her relationship to space, how it influences her, and how she prefers to be higher up than her surroundings when she dances. The 19th floor of a skyscraper, she said, suited her splendidly.
Throughout the week, things began to get busier. Sculptures sporadically emerged in Violet’s office, including three “cloud” works, made up of various types of metal—from long bars to tiny fragments of bronze slack—welded together. Little material moments of glitter, flowers, fluff, and cartoon hearts penetrate the intense rawness of the metal.
One day, Violet bought in pipe cleaners, paper that reflects light to send multicolored spots dancing across the walls, fake flowers, more fluff, and a power drill to embellish these. To make her workspace, she laid down a cloth muddied with footprints from the "Fertility Meal" she hosted on the roof of her Brooklyn studio a couple of weeks ago. Her office became an exciting explosion of color and energy.
Cyril was continuing to play with and curate the objects in his now extremely packed office. He also delved into material tests with resin, submerging strange-looking consumer objects—which are apparently used in China to be burnt with the dead and go to the afterlife with them—in resin in glass boxes. The tests were developing quickly, becoming increasingly precise and strong. The most recent one resembled a cross between a vending machine and a storefront display, and is even backlit with strips of tiny LED lights.
Sarah Meyohas, meanwhile, has set aside her conceptual company paperwork to begin experimenting with actual, laboratory-grade chemicals. Now her desk had test tubes and a large cylindrical vase filled with a mysterious milky liquid expected to leave an opalescent sheen on the vase when it evaporates.
Sigrid had inverted an office chair, making it lie flat, and placed it in the windowsill. For herself, she asked specifically for a desk and chair with wheels, which has moved to a different place in the office every time I have come in. She has become particularly interested in a darkened room in the suite, which the preceding company seems to have used for screen-based presentations and also for storing electronics. She was thinking about bringing other dancers into the space to choreograph, moving other people’s bodies as well as her own.
Haley’s paintings were coming along, owing to her meticulous hand and unhurried pace to go with it. It has been a delight to see a master painter at work and to appreciate the slowing down that goes with the territory. Brad and Josh, on the other hand, were working at a mile a minute, posting a product a day as promised to UV Production House and coming up with 10 times as many concepts more. A recent one they made was“coltan zen garden stress reliever” with an image of a man with a zen garden on his desk. The product is designed to relieve stress in stressful environments. I immediately wanted to order one for this office.
On Friday evening, we realized that UV Production had actually violated Etsy's terms of service—unsurprising, when objects for sale included a bubble and a floating pavilion. The site got taken down, so unfortunately currently their products are not visible online. Josh and Brad have begun contacting Etsy in an attempt to restore it.
As it turns out, traditional means of inter-office communication can be used to establish lines of communication in an artists’ residency too. I put the office on Slack, a messaging app for teams that is favored by creative offices because it includes emojis and a more user-friendly appearance. Before long, it became our primary source of communication, taking us even deeper into office culture—we used the app to announce visiting guests, discuss whether dogs could be bought into the building, and select lunch. As often as possible, we have eaten lunch together in the conference room, chatting. By the end of the week, the artists were walking into each other’s studios, offering advice, and generally getting to know one another, which is valuable and great.
So, back to my original question: can making art be an office job? So far, the answer is an overwhelming yes, especially in a location like Times Square that is an everyday commute destination for some but a rare opportunity for the artists occupying it.
That being said, I still have a lot of unanswered questions. What is the relationship between productivity and creativity? Can artists do their best work in a shared environment, or do they need to be solitary? What is the value of the traditional artists’ studio, and why has that model proven so popular and resilient? It's a good thing there are still 10 days of this residency left. A lot can happen in 10 days.