[Originally published in Oris Magazine #92]
Situated on the distant side of the forested hillcrest that overlooks Barcelona, the Arranz-Bravo Studio by Garcés – de Seta – Bonet Arquitectes is a tranquil, daylight-filled, introverted chamber of monolithic concrete set amongst trees on a sloping site. While it is intended as a space in which to make art, it actually creates, at the same time, a sort of environment that could also be seen to be highly suited for viewing art, thereby raising questions about the typological line that separates the two.
Numerous examples have taught us that art should be viewed under natural light, in simple spaces resembling the “white cube”; spaces that are silent and therefore conducive to contemplation, or to what Walter Benjamin called an attentive or concentrated gaze. In that regard, this pavilion-like building resembles a small art museum more than it does a messy artist’s studio. The building’s highly sculptural quality, achieved by means of the monolithic concrete materiality as well as by the geometry of an asymmetrical roof opening carved out of a subtly distorted pyramidal roof by means of a single, angular cut, is also more typical of museums than artists’ studios.
We could perhaps even go so far as to say that this building is iconic, irrespective of the value of the iconic image of the primordial house, of the type of building which collected art before the invention of the public museum (and which continues to do so in the case of private collections). With the birth of the modern public museum in the Enlightenment, the building was initially modeled to resemble the classical temple, which is none other than a house of a god. So we could say that this building is a house, a temple, or a museum, as much as it is an artist’s studio.
In fact, the Arranz Bravo studio’s exquisite craftsmanship, its restrained tectonic expression, and the tripartite division of the building into an opaque middle with glass at base and top is reminiscent of an art gallery by Herzog and de Meuron in the countryside near Munich, the Sammlung Goetz. Even the interior spaces of the two buildings are similar, both having upper stories illuminated from above –a central oculus in the case of Arranz Bravo Studio, and a ribbon of translucent clerestory windows in the case of Sammlung Goetz– and lower stories receiving reflected light through a window wall. In both cases, views to the exterior are non-existent on the upper floor, while lower floors permit only close-range views outside. In both cases, a straight-run stairway connecting both spaces is positioned off to one side. The interior concrete walls of the Arranz Bravo Studio recall another art-viewing institution (also by a Swiss architect): Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor.
Is the fact that this artist’s studio resembles a small art museum significant? There are certainly a great many contemporary art galleries and even some contemporary art museums located in the kinds of former industrial spaces that artists’ studios more typically occupy. It is also noteworthy that a number of artist’s studios have been converted into spaces for displaying art, as is most famously the case with Donald Judd’s sprawling studio complex in Marfa, Texas. Curiously, Judd’s studios were originally a military base.
When it comes down to it, viewing art is of course an integral part of making art. And if we take into consideration Umberto Eco’s notion that the reader completes the text, then by extension it becomes arguable that the viewer of art completes the art.
In any case, some critics are now saying that the days of building blockbuster mega-museums à la Bilbao Guggenheim are over. Perhaps the time is right, then, for small studio-museums such as this one.