We are locked down, and yet the wealth of offerings via digital platforms has blossomed to extraordinary proportions. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches.
Artists, performers, galleries, museums and television producers are making use of video-conferencing, pod casting and Instagram in ways that we could not have possibly imagined.
This week, on the occasion of International Museum Day, the Watts Gallery in Surrey announced the launch of the Artist’s Studio Museum Network website. This venture brings together the digital presences of the 150 -plus member institutions which make up the Network.
At present their doors remain closed due to Covid-19, but at a time when we need to be refreshed and inspired by human creativity the Network can take us to places we would never be able to see unless we were to spend a lifetime travelling.
It was was set up by Watts Gallery Trust, coinciding with the opening of Watts Studios in 2016, and it was overseen by the inspirational art historian, writer and curator Giles Waterfield. The Watts Gallery is the original studio home of George Fredric Watts, the Victorian painter dubbed “Britain’s Michelangelo”. In past years it has expanded into an artists’ village.
Through this clearly presented website, all the member museums around Europe can be visited digitally. Some, such as Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery and the Rodin Museum in Paris, are well-known with large collections of their own. They have astounding holdings and curatorial resources, while others are modest, but fresh and fascinating just because we may not have known about them.
Many artists and architects, like Albert Edelfelt and Alvar Aalto in Finland, had villa studios built in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Some are grand and opulent as their artist-owners such as Spain’s Joaquín Sorolla were highly successful. Others are rustic and homey places, based on cottages, dachas, cabins and barns.
The collection includes renowned places like Monet’s house and garden in Giverny and Cezanne’s in Aix, as well as William Morris’ Red House in Bexleyheath and his home in Hammersmith. But so many are revelations like the newly-opened Sidney Nolan Studio in The Rodd, Gloucestershire. (Nolan painted the famous Ned Kelly series, about the Australian outlaw). And few people will have visited the amazing Flat Time home in Peckham, South London which belonged to the daring conceptual artist-designer John Latham, who died in 2006.
The constantly changing site homepage reveals artists’ homes in smaller European nations including Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania, Belgium and Armenia. Many, especially in Nordic countries and Russia, are situated in idyllic countryside locations.
The Network features the studio-museums not only of painters but architects, photographers and sculptors. Among them are Dimbola, the home of Julia Cameron on the Isle of Wight and Lee Miller’s home in Muddles Green, near Lewes in East Sussex. Slovenian photographers Martin Lenz and Josip Pelikan built a light-flooded art nouveau studio in Ceije, Slovenia in 1899, a rare reminder of glass plate photography.
Nothing can or will ever replace the intimacy of being in the physical presence of an art work, a living performance and person-to-person contact. But until that becomes possible, these artist’s studios offer a chance to experience the rich diversity that is on offer and live in the hope that we can sometime actually visit them.