William Scott, 2021, a Studio Voltaire commission, image the artist and Creative Growth. Photo Benedict Johnson 8
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Studio Voltaire, London. After two years and a £2.8 investment, the arts organization reopens in Clapham

The newly developed building has provided a permanent home to Studio Voltaire, which had so far been itinerant, with temporary locations across London. The opening followed a two-year-long renovation and a fundraising process that lasted over five years

Studio Voltaire, London reopens after 2 years

Over nearly three decades, the not-for-profit arts organization Studio Voltaire, London has grown from a studio building founded by a group of local artists to a leading institution with a team of twenty people. Supporting and championing emerging, underrepresented, and risk-taking artists, it has continued bringing breaths of fresh air in the London contemporary art scene. This fall has marked a turning point in their history: Studio Voltaire, London has just reopened after a 2-year redevelopment of its buildings in the heart of Clapham, close to where everything started back in 1994. 

Studio Voltaire, London’s beginnings

«Studio Voltaire was founded by a group of London-based artists as one of the first artist-run spaces in this part of the city», tells Joe Scotland, who joined the organization in 2003 and has been directing it since 2010. «It all started out as a group of artists running a space in a disused tram shed on Clapham’s Voltaire Road, hence our name (which does not come from a fascination with the French philosopher, as many might expect!). In 1999, we moved to Nelsons Row, just around the corner, where the transition to our current organisational model began.

The year 2010 saw the launch of House of Voltaire, a pop-up store selling unique artworks, limited-edition prints and commissioned products by contemporary artists and designers. «House of Voltaire was created to support the running of Studio Voltaire, London. Organizing fundraising gala dinners or auctions did not feel the right way to do it. We came up with the idea of opening a showroom in Mayfair. We invited a bunch of artist friends and designers, who created products and editions to sell in this semi-ironic shop, which was kind of mimicking a Parisian fashion house or boutique store. The results were unexpected: in that first presentation, we doubled fundraising targets and engaged audiences from the fields of art, design, fashion, and beyond». 

Renovations and design of Studio Voltaire, London

The newly developed building has provided a permanent home to Studio Voltaire, which had so far been itinerant, with temporary locations across London and pop-ups in Miami (2015) and Melbourne (2016). The opening followed a two-year-long renovation, which cost the institution £2.8 m and a fundraising process that lasted over five years. «Our old building required renovation; we had no heating and there was rain falling from the ceiling! We raised over £1m in public funding, and the remaining through donations from private individuals, existing patrons and foundations. Artists contributed by donating artworks and editions to sell at House of Voltaire».

The organization called London-based architecture studio Matheson Whiteley to renovate the building, keeping accessibility and audience experience as a priority. In comparison to the old building, the new one has been enriched with a reception area, café, artist studios, a public garden, upgraded gallery spaces, the House of Voltaire shop, rooms for learning programs and workspaces. Two artists have been called to contribute to the project with permanent commissions. «We commissioned Anthea Hamilton to design our garden, which is the main entrance to the building. Anthea is a long-time collaborator and friend of Studio Voltaire, London. She has a studio with us, we have previously worked with her on commissioned projects and she has appeared in a number of group shows. She grew up and still lives in our neighbourhood, and I feel we kind of grew up together in the art world as she would always attend our openings and parties from when I first started being involved here».

Hamilton designed a space that combines ornamental flowers, shrubs with edible plants, organic surfaces and tactile finishes that complement the garden’s raised beds, pergola, seating areas, fountain, and tiled walkway. Hamilton has in turn invited artist Nicholas Byrne to design a gate which is the new South entrance to the garden. Artists Joanne Tatham & Tom O’ Sullivan – who first exhibited their work at Studio Voltaire, London back in 2003 – have been commissioned with designing the Studio’s public toilets, in an installation that the two baptized, with a dose of humour, ‘The Institute For The Magical Effect Of Actually Giving A Shit (a note to our future self).’ The duo covered the toilets’ walls with colourful, hand-glazed ceramic tiles, which recall some of the key-motifs in their art, and think of possibilities of colour, composition, and finish. As Scotland explains, «These permanent installations speak of our commitment to cultivating long-lasting relationships with artists. They add a kind of softness and experience to how audiences experience our buildings».

ActionSpace Studio, Photo French + Tye
ActionSpace Studio, Photo French + Tye

Fair representation and inclusion at Studio Voltaire, London 

Studio Voltaire has reopened with a show dedicated to American artist William Scott. It is a survey exhibition that covers the artist’s thirty-year career and explores his practice in detail with over 80 works on view. «It is the first time we worked with William. Yet Nicola Wright– our exhibition curator – and I have been looking at his practice for a number of years. Four years ago, we flew to Oakland, where William is based, and visited ‘Creative Growth’, a non-profit organization supporting artists with disabilities. The exhibition turned out to be pertinent to the present moment. As an Afro-American, disabled artist reinventing the narratives of his life and persona, William addresses themes of community, inclusion, cultural memory, which are now as important as ever».

The exhibition aligns with Studio Voltaire’s ethos to grant visibility to underrepresented voices and practices – no matter their race, gender, sexuality, class, and socio-economic background. Studio Voltaire is about fair representation and inclusion. The organization offers artists the possibility to live on site, renting studios for affordable prices. Artist residencies are by invitation, often connecting to a commissioning project. It is the case of Barcelona-based artist, novelist, and critic Huw Lemmey, who recently spent one month at Studio Voltaire doing research for a new film he is collaborating with Onyeka Igwe that investigates themes of homosexuality and espionage. As Scotland points out, «When we commission a new work, we fundraise to cover for all the cost of production and help with project management to develop the commission.  This is Huw’s first film commission, and we are supporting Huw and Onyeka with all aspects of production».

House of Voltaire shop

Studio Voltaire’s new building is now open, yet fundraising is still a priority. House of Voltaire remains a major source of income for the organization. The shop features a range of artists that include people who just finished university and established figures. These include artists and designers such as Linder Sterling, Richard Nicoll, Rachel Whiteread, Simone Rocha, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jonas Wood, and Jeremy Deller, who have contributed to the shop with limited-edition multiples, clothing, and accessories «Sometimes collaborations start because these artists are our clients. We noticed that Jonas Wood was ordering our artist blankets, so we invited him to design one for us and we produced it in an edition of 80».

Everything at House of Voltaire is unique to the store and cannot be found elsewhere. «As we take care of production for the majority of our products, we give artists and designers the opportunity to do something they would not be able to do with mainstream stores or within their regular practice», Scotland continues. Artist blankets remain a best seller – with House of Voltaire being one of the first places to produce them and offering around twenty at the moment – followed by prints and homeware, ceramics in particular. Among the store’s recent collaborations is the one with fashion designer Ashish, which is designing a calendar to be released before the end of the year. 

Studio Voltaire’s future and projects

When asked about the future of Studio Voltaire, Scotland stresses its role within the local community. «In the past ten years, London has witnessed continuous cuts to services and funding. Community organizations have lost funding, or may have lost the spaces where they meet, and many are struggling to survive. With its new location, Studio Voltaire will offer these organizations free spaces where to gather and continue their activities. We also aim to strengthen our relationship with local schools, providing children and young people with the opportunity to discover and experience art which they may not be able to do in their everyday lives or at school». The presence of a café, which is visible from the street, makes the space comfortable and accessible. It encourages local audiences to enter and enjoy themselves, without the apprehensions some might have about entering a gallery.

Studio Voltaire

Studio Voltaire, 1A Nelsons Row, London.

Not-for-profits arts organization in Clapham.

Elena Caslini

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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