Roy Lichtenstein’s Former Studio, Home to the Curators, Critics, and Artists of Tomorrow
The late pop art grand master’s former studio and home has reopened its doors on the artist’s centenary as living and learning quarters for the art world’s rising stars, care of a thoughtful overhaul by Johnston Marklee.
Some may have been aghast when the Whitney Museum proudly threw open the doors to a “full renovation” of Roy Lichtenstein’s former studio and home in the West Village. The museum acquired the space early last year—a donation from the late artist’s namesake foundation, created and presided over by his widow, the philanthropist Dorothy—to house its Independent Study Program (ISP). But Roy, who once led seminars for the program, “wouldn’t have wanted” the space to be enshrined as an unchanging landmark, Dorothy told the New York Times at last week’s opening preview of the space. It is, however, a landmark, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved its refit in 2022.
Thanks to Johnston and Marklee, it now resembles the most idealized version of the vaguely industrial studios where the art school cohort ask their brains to make sense of space, color, and symbolism; where they develop the muscle memory for the craft that, with dedication and a good stroke of luck, will become their livelihood. Its century-old pine floors remain intact, and warm West Village sunlight bounces around its white-washed walls. Not yet paint-stained porcelain sinks gleam from within a cavernous inner chamber housing 15 standalone plywood studios for study, creation, and exhibition. Living space can host international fellows whose induction to the program requires them to uproot their lives and relocate to New York City. A landscaped rooftop garden hosts Lichtenstein’s Garden Brushstroke—a thought to warm the soul and stoke a touch of envy within anyone who has pulled all-nighters to literally watch paint dry in dank and frigid university art studios.
According to ISP director Gregg Bordowitz, finally having a permanent home for the program and its fellows is more crucial than ever as boundaries between curators, artists, and critics blur to the point of all but disappearing. “Increasing numbers of creators are trans-disciplinary—their multiple activities move across traditional specializations,” he told Surface. “Emergent practices and forms, including new digital platforms, now arise. The curriculum of study now required proceeds from questions rather than answers. The question has priority over the answer. What constitutes theory now? What constitutes criticality now?”
The facilities and resources afforded to Whitney ISP fellows is extensive, and maybe even unprecedented with the addition of the Lichtenstein studio, but it’s for good reason. While many, even within the art world, don’t know more than a few passing details about the program, its alumni have shaped contemporary American art as we know it. Just a handful among them include artists LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jenny Holzer, and Julian Schnabel, critic Roberta Smith, curator Naomi Beckwith, and many more who have—and, with future classes, will—go on to shape how the world sees, understands, and engages with American art.