It may have been snowing outside but last night there was love and warmth in abundance within the art-packed Kensington home of Valeria Napoleone. The famously hospitable patron and collector was hosting one of her abundant spreads to celebrate Alexandra Bircken’s second commission at the Clapham art space Studio Voltaire. The Cologne-based artist has enlisted the services of specialist Suffolk boat builders to create an installation of imposing wooden arches echoing Voltaire’s vaulted chapel space. Master boat builder Mike Tupper made it down from the blizzard-battered east coast to join the crowd, which also included the Tate Modern director Maria Balshaw, the artists Jeremy Deller, Julie Verhoeven, Tomma Abts, Alice Channer and Lisa Brice, as well as rising star designer Matty Bovan—all of whom were treated to emotional speeches from both Napoleone and the Voltaire director Joe Scotland.
Here, Mrs N declaimed her longstanding admiration for Bircken, whose works are included in her collection of female artists. Napoleone also paid an impassioned tribute to Voltaire—where she has been a patron for over ten years and now chairs the development committee—especially highlighting the integrity of its approach and the way in which it supports artists regardless of whether they have received mainstream recognition. “They are my art family,” she declared. Scotland returned the love, recalling his first meeting with Napoleone in 2007 when she unexpectedly dropped into Voltaire and introduced herself with the question, “how can I help?” As Scotland confirmed, this is a rare opening gambit even from the most dedicated of philanthropists, and she has been helping ever since with advocacy, fundraising and profile building—as well as over a decade of plying the art world with her legendary Tiramisu.