W Art December 2014: Editor's Letter

Bill Viola’s Tristan’s Ascension

Bill Viola’s Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005. Courtesy of Bill Viola Studio.

When I first sat down with my features team to conceive this special issue of W Art, we posed a simple question: How do creative people relate to their living spaces? Convinced that the thinking process is directly affected by environment, we set out to explore how the work of artists is influenced by how and where they live.

We were struck by Ugo Rondinone’s new residence: The Swiss-Italian artist fell in love with an abandoned church in New York’s Harlem and, after an extensive renovation, recently moved in. The space brilliantly showcases the themes that have been a driving force in his work and life—in addition to making his own art, Rondinone is invested in supporting his fellow artists, and has also collected important artworks from friends and peers over the years.

Rondinone’s church made us realize that, for many, art is literally a religion—a larger-than-life force that, at its best, makes us consider our place in the world. (Granted, it’s a decadent religion, and it doesn’t hurt that art world pilgrimages happen in glamorous cities, with over-the-top parties and plenty of social fanfare.) Bill Viola’s photographs and videos of people emerging from watery depths or raging fires certainly conjure mystical and biblical imagery. Viola, who was the subject of a major retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris last summer, took a special leap of faith for W, working with Jake Gyllenhaal—the first time he has used a celebrity as a subject in his long and distinguished career.

The late patrons Dominique and John de Menil, who created the incomparable Rothko Chapel, were also believers in the otherworldly power of art. The photographer Tim Walker and the actress Tilda Swinton visited the de Menils’ Philip Johnson–designed house in Houston, recreating a day in Dominique’s life. We feel she would have approved of our intrusion.

Passion for collecting is alive and well, as we discovered when we walked into the more low-key residence of Anne Anka, a former model who was married to the crooner Paul Anka. Over more than five decades, Anne has amassed provocative art that seems to mirror her adventurous life. Born in Egypt, she has lived everywhere from Paris to Las Vegas; has graced the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan; and is now a muse to artists like Elliott Hundley, who has included her in many of his works.

The studio visit has always been an essential component in the curatorial process—for museums and magazines alike—and for this issue we spent time with eight talented women who are part of the Museum of Modern Art’s first major contemporary-painting show in 30 years. In Washington, D.C., we caught up with the octogenarian Color Field painter Sam Gilliam, who is experiencing a much deserved renaissance. We traveled to Los Angeles to check out Jordan Wolfson’s humanoid robot, which was being spruced up at the artist’s animatronics studio. And in New York, our Arts and Culture Director, Diane Solway, got an inside peek at Bjarne Melgaard’s rebellious, tongue-in-cheek fashion collection, which is an homage to the French filmmaker Catherine Breillat.

Looking at all the images in this issue, we were reminded of the legendary Condé Nast editorial director Alexander Liberman’s famous book The Artist in His Studio, published in 1960. Despite the digital monitors and high-tech equipment that many of today’s artists use, it is astonishing to see how little ateliers have changed over time. The tools and mediums they use have become more sophisticated, but at the end of the day, the process of making, collecting, and living with art remains as personal as ever. Take a look for yourself.