“These people know how to treat artists!”, declaimed Peter McGough in a rousing speech at last night’s Studio Voltaire annual benefactors dinner. “Artists are dreamers, and it's an unbelievable special place where dreams come true !”. This is certainly the case for the south London not-for-profit —headed up by director Joe Scotland who was togged-up for the benefactors in a rainbow sequined gown. Indeed Studio Voltaire has been widely renowned for more than 20 years for giving early and crucial exposure to artists both from the UK and beyond by offering specially commissioned shows at pivotal moments in their careers. This key formative role was further underlined by Frieze director and Voltaire chair Victoria Siddall, who pointed out that among the artists showing at the upcoming Venice Biennale: Charlotte Prodger representing Scotland, Cathy Wilkes in the British Pavilion as well as Anthea Hamilton, Alexandra Bircken, Nicole Eisenman and Nairy Baghramian in Ralph Rugoff’s show are all Voltaire alumnae.
Everyone present at the event —which included artists Pablo Bronstein, Elizabeth Price, Ryan Gander and Julie Verhoeven as well as actor Russell Tovey, patron Valeria Napoleone and the director of the National Portrait Gallery Nicholas Cullinan—were also happily aware of the fact that the former Victorian chapel is a particularly special place right now, having been transformed by Peter McGough and his artist-partner David McDermott into the fin de siècle extravaganza that is The Oscar Wilde Temple. This comes complete with arts-and-crafts wallpaper, stained glass chandeliers, vases of lilies and a statue of Wilde accompanied by paintings that pay tribute both to his ordeals and to the ongoing traumas and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. Voltaire will remain in this current incarnation as not just a gallery but a social space until the end of next month with just one more show of Mary Reid Kelly and Patrick Kelly over the summer before it closes for a major £2.3 million redevelopment.
This scheme, devised with architects Matheson Whiteley, will enlarge and revamp the gallery, create new public spaces, a garden and a permanent shop as well as greatly expanding the surrounding studios into low-cost workspace for 75 artists. More than half the funds have already been raised and the final dinner in McDermott & McGough’s Oscar Wilde Temple acted as a key reminder to Voltaire’s supporters of the importance of ensuring that this beloved institution can be even better equipped to help future artist dreamers achieve their vision.